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Why Good People Don't Run for Office

Everybody sees what wrong with politics. Some see more than others. However, what good is seeing the problems if you don't/can't fix them? If everybody running for office is corrupt, why don't honest people give them a run for their money? Here are some of my thoughts:

  • Money - No I'm not talking about raising enough money to campaign, I'm talking about feeding your family while you're in office. In Arizona, the annual salary for legislators is $24,000. Sure a lot of people say that since the State Congress is only is session half the year, the salary should be low. However, if legislators were really fulfilling their responsibilities, they would (and some do) spend their off time researching issues, getting feedback from their constituents, planning for the next session, etc. So how does someone afford to be a legislator on that salary? Well, the middle class is out; that salary probably wouldn't pay most middle class mortgages much less buy food, power, etc. So you have people who are already low income and people who are rich enough that they don't need the money. I submit that right there you have precluded a large portion of the population: people who would like to help but can't afford to.

  • Exposure - Once a person is running for office, privacy doesn't exist. The media will research their entire lives and bring up mistakes made years ago as though they were made yesterday. A politician's every move is watched - they're just waiting for a mistake or even the appearance of a mistake. Most people don't want to have to constantly deal with that kind of scrutiny.

  • Knowledge/Experience - The expectation for elected officials is high. They are expected to know everything about economics, foreign policy, trade, local issues, etc. If they vote on a bill that doesn't end up doing what they thought it would do, they get blamed for it - they might even get accused of trying to use it for personal gain. That's a lot of pressure.

  • Campaigning - The most adept politician may be a horrible campaigner. Conversely (and I'm sure we've all see this) the worst politician may be a brilliant campaigner. What does that leave us with? A government full of good sales reps who we hope a somewhere close to as good at politics.

For these and other reasons, many people who could be assets to the State and the people simply don't run - or they run but are out-campaigned by a better salesman. If we want to reform government, let's make it attractive to reformers.


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