Right now, people are getting ready to run for office in local elections.
Here in PA, this means County, Township and Borough positions will need to be filled. The primary and general election turnout in “off-years” like this one have the lowest turnouts, but people in these positions have the largest effect on your daily life. These are the folks who are in charge of making sure the roads are maintained, the Library is funded, planning for projects like fixing dangerous intersections or whether that new housing development meets all the codes and will fit into the community, just to name a few. Their decisions will affect how efficiently paperwork gets processed in the Courts, the direction of economic development, the preservation and use of open space, and, of course, how are schools are run- and these examples are just the tip of the iceberg.
While a lot of attention is being paid to the folks lining up to run for President, remember how important it is for those folks to understand how Government works at the very lowest levels.
My objections to the celebrities and billionaires thinking about running for office has more to do with the fact tat they understand very little about Government in the first place, although like all of us, they certainly have their opinions about it.
The first thing everyone should realize is that Government is a fiduciary responsibility. It’s not a for-profit or even a non-profit enterprise- it is a public trust. That means we all agree to pool our resources (taxes) and give it to the Government entity in the hopes that our daily needs will be met on the macro-community level. Government needs to be a responsible steward of those tax dollars, making investments in the community infrastructure so we can go about our daily lives and not think about it too much.
At our Township level, that means making sure we have a plan in place for how our community is predicted to grow into the next 15-20 years, and trying to make decisions now about how we’re spending tax dollars to meet not only today’s needs but those out as far as we can see. It can be about preservation of land for parks, schools, and simply as open space, to prevent our area from becoming a giant strip mall. But it’s also about looking at what sort of growth can be expected, and making sure when we take on a project, such as fixing a dangerous intersection, we look at changes with that anticipated growth in mind.
Just think how many times we’ve seen road projects and thought- that’s going to be outmoded as soon as they’re finished? The job of government is to take all available data, and try to predict the future, making the best possible decision- but also not over-plan or over develop- because this stuff is expensive, and no one wants to see their taxes go up.
The decisions have to be made to benefit every citizen- not just the rich or the poor. Improving sidewalks and ways to get from Point A to Point B, for example, help connect a community together and make it more accessible to everyone- and that’s a quality of life improvement that benefits the community as a whole, just like having a great school benefits all the families, but also helps hold steady and even increase property values over time.
I’m skeptical of the business moguls wanting to get into politics, because they just don’t have the experience to understand how regulations aren’t about slowing down business, they are about making sure there are decent guardrails in place to help shape the development and growth of an entire community- and making sure our futures aren’t compromised by the eagerness to make a profit in this quarter or the next.
The horizons for government success can be measured in years and decades. And that kind of long term planning and careful management is not what these folks are really known for- they are known for looking for ways to make things profitable- but they aren’t always looking at the long term preservation and investment that is part of Government’s duty to each and everyone of us.
I admire the successful entrepreneur. I congratulate them heartily. But I would love to see them have some true experience of working in Government at a local level where the decisions are sometimes difficult, and it’s literally where the rubber meets the road. Then I would have some faith that they really understand what Government is all about. It’s not about letting a developer streamline the approval process for their next project, it’s making sure the next project is something that will benefit the community long term. And that’s a crucial difference that I expect everyone running for office to understand.
While it’s “sexy” to run for a high visibility office, the bottom line is that government is complicated, and requires a seriousness of purpose to do the job, not just attract attention and applause. If all you want is attention, I suggest show business or stand up comedy. Take up blogging. How about becoming a Youtube or Instagram star? You can get all the attention you want, and the rest of us won’t have to live with the consequences of your lack of understanding of the responsibility that goes along with being an elected official. It is a huge responsibility to be in charge of the future of your community or country, and it deserves to be taken with the utmost seriousness.