Steps to stronger candidates

Ever wondered why we don’t have stronger candidates running for office?A recent case in point: Disgraced Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s posing gleefully at a hamburger stand en route to a Colorado federal penitentiary. Others: Anthony Weiner and Herman Cain. Before then? Well, we’ve all forgotten more defunct leaders than we care to remember.

So, why can’t we get better people to run? And by “better” I mean intelligent, experienced, balanced, solutions-oriented, intellectually honest, integrity-filled.

Here’s my list of what holds better people back:

Money – It takes big dollars to communicate campaign messages in a noisy and distracted world. Politicians must perpetually fund raise and most people don’t consider fundraising fun.

It also generally takes independent wealth to have the flexibility to campaign. And if a position is unpaid or laughably compensated (Texas Legislators get $20 a day while they’re in their districts), it often takes independent wealth to serve, as well.

Perpetual campaigns – U.S. and Texas Constitutional writers surely envisioned distinct periods for campaigning and for representing. But today’s instant and incessant news coverage forces politicians to be always on, always managing messages. What right-thinking individual wants a job with no time off?

Privacy invasions – Yahoos with Yahoo! are everywhere. Forget skeletons in the closet. All they need is a little clutter to embarrass a candidate. Advertising-dependent, journalistic integrity-challenged news sources will help them do it. Which fallible human doesn’t have some clutter in the proverbial closet?

Unrealistic expectations – When is the last time you heard a politician say, “I don’t know.”? An increasingly dependent populace expects politicians to have perfect knowledge of and final answers for every issue. Only demigods can meet such a standard.

With these factors in place, who then runs for office? In short, the super-wealthy, the ego-maniacs, the ideologically extreme, and those with little at stake (e.g., families, companies, etc.). Gratefully, there are exceptions, many of which are in our local governments.

What can be done?

Longer terms – Life happens faster and people live longer than they did when our constitutions were written. For congressmen, state representatives, even city council members, two-year terms fly by. Plus, they keep the focus on elections and not on good governance. Those terms should be lengthened to at least four years.

Money – I like the idea of citizen legislators, lawmakers who must live and work under the laws they pass. But most officials today spend more time at their official duties than their counterparts did 100-plus years ago. Their compensation should increase commensurately and be adjusted for inflation. Independent commissions can help define “commensurately”.

Privacy laws – We need to reasonably protect candidates’ families and interests. The witness protection program could serve as a guide. Volunteering to lead shouldn’t invalidate a person’s right to privacy.

And a couple for the candidates themselves:

Take a break. If you haven’t communicated your message in six days, you probably won’t on the seventh either. Besides, we get tired just watching you.

Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know something and that it’s unrealistic to be expected to. Quiz the questioners. Hotbox the reporters. Give them a taste of their own medicine.

After all, the best leaders don’t necessarily know the right answers. They just know the right questions.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star. Follow him at

1 Response to “Steps to stronger candidates”

  1. 1 Ron Cisneros April 4, 2012 at 23:43

    Interesting thoughts, Kevin. What do you think about malicious lies and slander? I’d like to visit with soon and get your thoughts on the sheriff’s race.

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