Oh, to be “Tennessee Trey.”
Imagine you had that jet black hair with a couple of gray patches highlighting your glassy, blue eyes. Imagine you had that smile which could make even Vice President Mike Pence blush. Imagine you just won reelection, and you didn’t have to worry about those constituents in Indiana for another two years.
They make me feel sad, you think. You wonder what life would’ve been like if you were born poor. Then you remember Dad always said empathy was for losers and socialists, so you push that thought deep down.
Besides, serving Indiana’s 9th Congressional District isn’t all bad. You have a luxury penthouse in Jeffersonville, Indiana, which you think is pretty kickass. Plus, you don’t even have to be there all of the time — avoiding voters is easy. When you walk into the House of Representatives, you’re the fourth richest person in the room, and if you vote the right way then you may just become the third one day.
Wait, you’ll already be the third. The richest member of Congress left to run as Montana’s governor. You laugh a little when you remember the revenue for your family’s oil company was more than double his total net worth. You become hysterical when you remember a county in your district, Crawford County, has a per capita income of only around $33,000. You can’t help but do the math and, sure enough, your family’s oil company made more in 2018 than all of Crawford’s residents combined.
You’re from Tennessee, so you’re drinking bourbon, obviously. You have to celebrate somehow, and it wasn’t a cheap bottle. In fact, it’s Woodford Reserve Baccarat Edition. Could you have paid someone’s rent with that money? No, you reassure yourself, rent couldn’t be less than $2,000. “Don’t be crazy, Trey,” your dad echoes in your head once again.
A few glasses in, and you get to thinking.
Who was that guy who thought he could beat you? You only remember the song and how cheap this election was compared to the others. A quick “Tennessee Trey” Google search, and Andy Ruff’s voice overtakes the room.
“He looked away across the Bluegrass hills to the banks of the Ohio, and he said I’m gonna buy the Indiana 9th,” you sing along knowing every word is true.
At the song’s conclusion, you finish the rest of your drink — something like $25 gone in a matter of seconds. It’s nothing compared to what you paid to get in Congress, though.
2016 personally cost you more than $3.1 million, and you also had to buy a house in Indiana. Your dad even put up $370,000 of his own money. 2018 required $1.5 million. This year it was only $1 million compared to Ruff’s $100,000.
Elections keep getting cheaper, but you wish you could’ve just slipped the congressional sergeant-at-arms a cool $2 million and have been done with it. Why pretend to believe in a fair democracy?
You do feel a sense of relief Dad didn’t have to pay so much this time around, though.
“Joseph Hollingsworth III,” he could’ve said sternly in 2015. “This is an investment in the company, and I want a return on my investment.”
Did you come through? You rack your brain trying to remember your voting record. There was that time you voted against extending the deadline for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, but that was more for laughs in the Republican cloakroom. Same with your opposition to emergency relief for Puerto Rico. You belong to a sadistic bunch, but at least you’re part of the club.
What about the bill to regulate perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances? You heard they were contaminating water in military bases across the country — including one in a county right next to your district — and you support the troops. There was also the issue of the more than 50 of your voters’ kids in Johnson County contracting rare forms of cancer, likely from contaminated water.
Then the other Republicans voted no, and you joined them after remembering your dogmatic opposition to regulation. You really only have to say you support the troops. Plus, no one knows what perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances are anyway.
Your best vote, and the one that made Dad the most proud, pops into mind. You voted no on the “Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2019.” Your convictions helped ensure employers have the right to discriminate against striking workers, coerce employees to attend meetings discouraging union membership and continue to violate labor laws with little penalty. The vote kept the National Labor Relations Board in its place — a big win for people as rich as you and your dad.
In preparation for your next term in Congress, you turn to your family company’s website. There you find the quarterly newsletter written by Dad, and he sounds pissed at the prospect of a Joe Biden presidency.
“A Biden Senate and House would have no checks or balances,” he wrote, apparently not too confident in your ability to balance the executive. “Right to work laws would be repealed, and labor law would be rewritten to favor the unions nationally. The Federal Reserve ends up with a new mandate to address racial injustice.”
You allow yourself, for just one moment, to forget about your dad’s expectations and ponder on the 2022 election. Could someone beat me this time? It's a prayer more than it is a serious question.
That repressed empath inside of you hopes someone does. For the sake of the district, the country and the world, you know it’d be better that way. But for now, you — Joseph Hollingsworth III — have a role to play. Who else will protect the family fortune? You just have to try and keep ignoring the people of Indiana’s 9th while you do it.
Kyle Linder (he/him) is a senior studying journalism and international relations. He wants everyone to join a union.