Over the years, I have heard a common complaint from voters. Maybe you were one of them. Again and again, I’ve heard people express a uniform dislike of “career politicians.”
What is a “career politician?” For the purposes of this article, a career politician is someone who holds full-time elected office and who depends on their government salary as their primary source of income. They usually have held elected office for 10 or more consecutive years and often have never had a real job outside of elected office. Usually, they have no intention of having a job outside of elected office. In other words, politics is their livelihood.
When our Founding Fathers established this nation, they made it clear that they wanted people to serve in government who were merchants, workers, farmers and others from everyday society. They were equally clear that once they served, they were expected to return to society to live under the laws they created. Our founders assumed that politicians would deliberate on the issues and at least do what was best for their voters.
So, what happened? Well, over the years we have bought into the notion that politics requires full-time representatives to get things done, due to the complexity of government. But who made government so complex? The answer is; career politicians.
Who are these people? Do they have some evil plan and/or grand conspiracy? No, they are not evil, nor are they conspirators. They are normal, everyday folks, who happen to be elected officials. They have mortgages to pay, food to put on the table, clothes to buy for themselves and their family, school supplies to purchase for their kids. They have the same worries, concerns and responsibilities as the rest of us.
Do they put their own political livelihood ahead everything else? Yes, of course they do! Why wouldn’t they? After all, this is their full-time job, their very livelihood. If they lose their office, for whatever reason, how are they going to pay their bills and meet their obligations? Every decision they make while in office has to take into consideration their own survival. Is this any different from the rest of us?
There is one big difference: Elected government officials have the ability to forcibly take your money, by way of taxes, to support themselves, as well as other government functions. Society at large does not have this power. Therefore, there is an incentive for elected officials to increase their pay, benefits and power base by increasing the size and scope of government, thus making it very complex.
At the county level, there are many legitimate functions of government, including Law Enforcement, Public Works, Mass Transit, just to name a few. However, they all have full-time department heads. Why is there a need for full-time, elected representation at this level? The truth is there isn’t any need.
So, what is the best defense against career politicians? The answer is simple and effective; make the job part-time. At the county level, this means making the county supervisor role a part-time post. By doing so, serving as a supervisor can no longer provide a primary source of income and no longer become a livelihood. Elected officials will be forced to live under the laws they create, without special exceptions and privileges for themselves.
In Milwaukee County, we must look to internal restructuring for long-term savings. This means we must change the very way we do business. We need elected officials with the courage to make those tough decisions.