JACK GARGAN wants to fire Congress. All 100 senators. All 435 representatives. Like many Americans this year, Mr. Gargan is furious with America's lawmakers. He's angry about their $34,900 pay raise. He's peeved about the $500 billion savings-and-loan scandal. He's miffed about the huge budget deficit.
Unlike most Americans, however, Gargan is doing something about it.
Several months ago, using $45,000 in personal savings, he launched THRO Inc. (Throw the Hypocritical Rascals Out!). The first step, using his own funds, was to run full-page ads in several newspapers calling for a nationwide effort to toss everyone out of Congress.
The response was big. Very big. One recent morning in Tampa, Fla., while Gargan was being interviewed at his office, a postal carrier walked in with the day's mail - 427 letters. ``That's a little less than usual,'' Gargan says. Typically, 90 percent of the letters contained donations.
With the help of volunteers, THRO is booming. Already, ads have been placed in 155 papers, with one of the most costly ($55,000) appearing Wednesday in USA Today. ``People are mad,'' Gargan says. ``The American public has come to expect that their congressman is going to be pompous and greedy, self-serving, sleazy. We expect that. But we will not tolerate their being arrogant, and they are arrogant. People are fed up.''
Gargan's assertions are supported by polls, which have reversed since August. Gallup, for example, reported that in August, 51 percent of Americans were satisfied with the way things were going in the United States. But by the end of September, only 37 percent were satisfied; 58 percent were dissatisfied.
In a New York Times/CBS News poll last month, 62 percent of the respondents said they approved of the way their US representative was handling his or her job; 21 percent disapproved. But only 43 percent said their representative deserves reelection; 40 percent said their representative didn't deserve reelection.
The key, Gargan says, is that Washington scandals have begun to hit taxpayers in their wallets.
``When employers deduct workers' taxes, I would love to see: `This part is for the S&L scam. This part is for the HUD scam. This part is for the congressman's pay raise.' You talk about being mad now. Ooooo - wouldn't that tear it!''
Gargan, whose enthusiasm carries over to his many unpaid volunteers, says THRO's long-term goal is limiting congressional terms. Some reformers have called for a 12-year limit on terms, but he thinks that is far too long. ``I don't like 12 years. That is long enough for them to learn how to steal,'' Gargan says.
``I would like to see one six-year term for congressmen - and then out. Stagger them, just like the Senate, so that you have some continuity. That would be ideal.''
He continues: ``I think the government should provide housing for them just like they do for people on an army post. When the colonel comes in, they've got a nice place for him. We can do that and get away from this alibi, `I've got all this double housing cost.' And the joke is, most of those guys up there don't even have a home back home.''
Gargan has sent ripples across the country - gaining interviews on radio talk shows, TV networks, and in newspapers. His ads have been seen from the St. Peterburg Times to the San Diego Union.
Occasionally, his ads get turned down. The language is rough and somewhat vulgar. He says the Louisville Courier-Journal rejected it. So did the Los Angeles Times and a couple of big papers in Arkansas.
But Gargan doesn't give up easily. He claims the Seattle Times turned him down. But it reversed itself after he appeared on a radio talk show in Seattle and suggested that listeners call the paper and ask, ``Why don't you run Jack Gargan's ad?''
Marjorie Ruiz, advertising director at the Seattle Times, denies Gargan's story, however. She says the paper has strict rules for any out-of-state ads which solicit money. The Times demands an indemnity statement, and information about the group's nonprofit status. When the Times got those from Gargan, the ad ran immediately, she explains, though she concedes the radio show created ``an uproar.''
Gargan gets other criticism. He is blamed for trying to throw out the good with the bad. Critics say Congress needs experienced members. But Gargan demurs.
``There are some good people in Congress. Very, very few, but there are some good ones. But they don't have to be a congressman or congresswoman to serve their country. There are thousands of public and private sector jobs - they won't miss a day's pay.
``There are even more thousands of qualified, competent, patriotic people who could fill those shoes in a heartbeat. Don't kid ourselves. I think the American spirit out there has just been stifled. People have not come forward to run for office simply because they don't want to get into that hog trough with the rest of the gang.''
Gargan says THRO is on a roll. The latest news: A radio talk-show host in Maine has encouraged listeners to burn their headlights to support THRO. Their motto: ``Read my lights. You're out of there on Nov. 6.''