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Legislators enjoy riches of service

Which came first, the congressional office or the cash?

That’s a question many people may be asking after an analysis released last week by the Center for Responsive Politics showed more than half of our nation’s representatives in Congress are millionaires.

The median net worth of all members of congress is slightly more than $1 million, while the U.S. Census bureau reported that for 2011 the average American’s net worth was less than $70,000.

How bizarre is it that the very people debating the future of welfare, unemployment benefits, food stamps and other such national policies are incredibly unlikely to ever need the help.

The average member of Congress is 14 times wealthier than the average American.

Far be it from me to knock someone from being wealthy.

Wealth doesn’t make a person inherently bad, but it can, logic would suggest, provide a level of lifestyle that would make a person so far removed from the common problems most Americans face that it’s difficult to relate.

Statistically, the personal financial disclosure records indicate, the richest Congressman is Rep. Darrell Issa of California, worth approximately half a billion dollars.

The poorest, also from California, is David Valadao with a huge negative net worth.

For Mississippians, longtime Sen. Thad Cochran tops the Magnolia bunch with an average net worth of approximately $2.6 million.

Rep. Steven Palazzo is second with $1.12 million in worth.

Sen. Roger Wicker was third, worth approximately $660,000, trailed closely by Rep. Bennie Thompson and Rep. Alan Nunnelee with $647,000 and $620,000 in worth, respectively.

Bringing up the rear — and I find this a bit heartwarming since he’s our area’s representative — is Rep. Gregg Harper worth approximately $70,000.

Mississippi’s Congressional delegation trails, no surprise, the averages.

The average senator is worth $2.79 million; the average representative $896,000.

Democrats are worth more than Republicans, weighing in at $1.1 million, while GOP leaders are worth $1 million.

It’s all pretty interesting stuff to ponder and consider — were they rich before they went to Washington, or did they get rich after they got there?

Of course, as the authors of the analysis report, the numbers are only as good as the reporting, and some flaws likely exist in the reporting requirements.

The wealthy tide shift in Congress shouldn’t shock anyone, though. Throughout history, our nation’s leaders have, by and large, been people of great means. Even many of the founding fathers were among the wealthiest people of their day.

Still, it’s difficult not to wonder: How on earth can those people truly represent the tired, poor and huddled masses?

The reality is most cannot.

The problem in many cases, voters continue to re-elect millionaire after millionaire.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.