The Reluctant Candidate

This article was first published in print and online on November 5th in Bruce’s “We the Government” column. For more information about his biweekly syndicated column, be sure to read the introductory post here.

Ever notice that we treat our elected officials very kindly? We call them the “Honorable.” We stand when they walk in. We ask them to sit at the head table. We may curry favor with them for future gain. However, while we should absolutely treat people kindly and with respect, we may be planting the seeds of our own problems with this underlying deference!

Electeds begin to think “I’m all that, plus a bag of chips!” You see, they begin to believe their own public relations messaging. Within the State Capitol we call it “memberitis”. Per Matthew 23:6, “They love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues.” They think they are “hot stuff”, rather than simply as our elected employees – which is how we should treat them. Respectfully, honestly, but as our employees who we hold accountable as their employers.

The result of this favorable treatment is we have people running for office for all the wrong reasons! Not everyone, but many seek fame, ego, power, or privilege, rather than run as a public servant. Asking candidates why they are seeking office, some have candidly admitted to me, “I’m not sure why.” They know that it may be unlikely for them to win – but simply running brings exposure and notoriety. It’s almost a game.

Then, if elected, do they know why they are there? It’s unlikely they have any grounding in constitutional responsibilities or even basic managerial skills. They pursue whatever their imaginations conceive and frequently have NO sense of priorities. This explains recent laws from the State Capitol that makes it illegal to remove condoms during intercourse without mutual consent, or restaurants to offer small packets of condiments (e.g. mustard).

I recently relayed an observation to a reporter from my years as a local elected, “Being elected does not mean that you are necessarily intelligent!” He laughed and laughed in agreement … almost as the child who declared that, “The emperor has no clothes!”

Of course, everything is on a continuum. I have met bright and dim electeds. But, we pull our candidates from the general population. So, if the average person is just bumbling through life trying to figure it out, then our candidates and ultimately electeds are doing the same thing!

Hence, my “Thesis of the Reluctant Candidate”: the most reluctant candidate out of a group of candidates may be the best candidate. Take ten people who are asked, “Who wants to be Mayor?” Nine shout, “Oh, me, please me, I really want to be Mayor!!” They jump up and down trying to be picked – and this is not an unrealistic scenario. Now, I wonder why are they so eager to be in power? And, if so eager to gain power, won’t they be eager to stay in power – to do whatever it takes to play the political games to win again and again? (I have been in the backrooms where electeds contrive to manipulate offices so as to stay in power.)

By contrast, the reluctant candidate may say, “Well, damn, I really have other things to do, but I guess I could serve for a term as a public service.” I’d argue that may be the better candidate. They are not in it so much for ego or personal gain.

The lessons for citizens as owners of our government are as follows. We need to inspire the highest quality of candidates. We should look for the necessary qualifications in deciding for whom to vote. And, finally, we must treat our electeds with respect, but treat them as our employees!

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