The 2014 election season is ramping up into high gear and politicians are sizing up the political arena and measuring their respective career ladders.
Some are looking to climb to the next rung, either because they want to further their career or truly feel they can represent the people better (it is up to the electorate to determine their true intentions). But what are the costs to democracy and representation?
Imagine if you hired someone for a job and a few months later they are surfing the Internet, applying for other jobs, while they are supposed to be working for you. How do you feel about that? What would you do? Yell, scream, fire them or even give them a swift boot in their rear end? Yet, at any given time we have the same phenomenon occurring in political offices across the state. Elected officials sworn to serve the people are campaigning for a new post.
This was demonstrated vividly in 2013 in Southern California. There was a Los Angeles City Council spot open, which a few state legislators campaigned for. A state senator won the spot, so a special election was called to backfill the Senate position. A state Assembly member won the Senate position, so a special election was called to replace the Assembly member. Several city council members ran for the Assembly position, and so on.
These musical chairs cost the people time, money and representation. Special elections cost taxpayers additional unbudgeted dollars. For reference, Fairfield recently estimated that it would take upward of $500,000 to run a special election to backfill the recently vacated city clerk position.
Perhaps more costly is the lack of representation. In these special elections, turnout is lower, enabling a very small percentage of the electorate to choose the representative. Moreover, if your elected official is out campaigning, they are not in the halls of government fighting for your issues. Legislation passed while they are campaigning has a dubious haze over it. Did the elected official support the legislation because it reflects the values of his or her current constituency, or because it panders to the voters he or she seeks to court?
Campaigns are not quick and easy, and certainly not low-cost. They require many resources in terms of time and money. Currently there is no cost for elected officials to job hunt while working for the people; they can claim they are pursuing “voter outreach” as part of their elected duties, even though most citizens would classify their activities as “campaigning.”
This system biases campaigns toward the incumbent; it is much easier to campaign when you are being paid by the taxpayer as opposed to challengers who are not politically entrenched who must take time off, or even leave, their “normal” job while they campaign for public office.
In the private sector, resumes where the candidate has numerous short stints at assorted jobs are a red flag. They hint at someone who doesn’t have the proper skill set or the ability to get along with people. Public servants who do not remain long enough in one role cannot build the expertise and develop the network to accomplish objectives put forth by their constituency.
To curtail the damage caused by rampant political job-hopping, I present my first entry into the 2014 “there ought to be a law” file: Any full-time public servant who files to run for an elected office will be required to resign their current position.
Let’s see how eager they will be to job hop when their “safe” position is taken away from them, and they will be compelled to campaign with their own resources. Then we might see more public service and less self-service.
Brian Thiemer is chairman of the Solano County Libertarian Party. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.