A couple of months ago, the Derecho we had up in Northern Virginia shorted out the lamppost in my front yard. I tried to fix it myself, but had no luck, so I’ve been looking to find a good electrician to fix it. After reading some reviews and talking to my neighbors, I’ve settled on a company and they’re coming out soon. When I was trying to figure out who to hire, I wanted a company that’s been around a while, with master electricians who know their business and should be able to fix my lamp with no hassles. It’s important to me that they know how to do the job and that they’re competent.
That’s how most people hire folks to work for them – they look for the most qualified, competent person. That’s how we hire lawyers, plumbers, contractors, day care providers – pretty much everyone who we rely on and pay to take care of problems that we can’t take care of ourselves.
Except elected officials.
Imagine if I’d done my search for an electrician the same way we’re looking to hire our next Lieutenant Governor. First thing, I’d need to know if he were a Cowboys or a Redskins fan because there is no way I’d hire a Cowboys fan. If he made it that far, I’d make sure he liked Star Trek, and believed the Xbox has better games than the PS3. If he answered all of those questions right – meaning he agreed with me – then I’d hire him. So what if he’s not licensed, uninsured and never actually worked as an electrician before – he’s Orioles fan!
And when my lamppost isn’t fixed, it must have been because I forgot to ask him if he listened to country music. Can’t trust anybody who doesn’t like Johnny Cash.
I know that sounds stupid, because, well, it is. But that’s exactly how we choose Republican nominees today.
In my inbox I’ve an email from a group calling itself the “Virginia Anti-Establishment Task Force.” It’s unsigned (typical), announcing they’ve got a website (registered using two fake street addresses) and a Facebook page (registered as an individual, not as a group, which is a violation of Facebook’s terms of service). The email, subject line: “the establishment’s worst nightmare,” goes on to explain the VAETF’s mission is “to help grassroots conservatives take back control of the GOP in Virginia from Party leaders who care more about staying in power than they do our conservative values.” Some of the folks being targeted on their site include Speaker Bill Howell, Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, former Delegate and State Senator JeanneMarie Devolites Davis and Delegate Scott Lingamfelter. Both Davis and Lingamfelter are running for Lieutenant Governor. About the only thing that those four individuals have in common is they’re all Republicans and they’re all sitting or former elected officials of some tenure.
The rest of the email is the typical screed about returning the party to “core values” and how we’ve ignored the grassroots and somehow strayed from the ideologically pure path of true conservatism. How Bolling, Howell or Lingamfelter – three of the most consistently conservative Republicans in the Commonwealth – have done that, I have no idea. I can understand attacking JMDD, as she’s a Northern Virginian like myself and we’re always accused of being RINOs or worse. It’s all very tiresome and it’s all been done before.
What I find most frustrating is the idea that having experience has become a bad thing. The cynical view that every incumbent was a bum to be thrown out has seeped into our souls and poisoned our discourse and our party is the worse for it. The fact that someone is able to get a program enacted – or any law passed at all – isn’t a bad thing. The fact that some people view the entire concept of passing laws as a bad thing is, itself, a bad thing. It’s cynical, ignorant and counterproductive. And it causes us to nominate folks who the larger electorate takes one look at and recognizes aren’t ready for prime time.
We need people with experience because governing is hard. It requires skill, hard work, and a skin as thick as, well, a rhino. The rewards are largely the satisfaction of a job well done and maybe a little credit, but that’s about it. Being good – heck, just being competent – is even harder than getting elected because the American system has done such a good job of diluting political power that your average legislator, from the city council to the U.S. Senate, can rarely do anything without convincing a majority of his colleagues that its a either a good idea or so innocent nobody cares. Thus, we need nominees who come from the ranks of people who have demonstrated they can get things accomplished – they can actually keep the trains running on time. We need folks with some kind of experience, either governing or in the private sector, because so much is riding on our making good decisions now and solving problems now, rather than kicking the can down the road for our kids to solve.
So why do we spend so much time asking questions that don’t matter and then hiring the folks who tell us what we want to hear? Isn’t that exactly the opposite of what we should be doing?
I respect Bill Bolling, Bill Howell, JeanneMarie Davis and Scott Lingamfelter for all they’ve been able to accomplish in and outside public office. They don’t deserve to be attacked simply because they’ve gotten elected, they’ve governed, or they’ve disagreed with someone on their pet policy or insulted their political idol.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if my electrician is pro-life or anti-tax – it matters if he can fix my lamppost.
We’ve got a lot of lampposts that need fixing in this state and in this country. It’s time to start choosing the best men and women for these jobs, not the folks who give the best speech or who can claim ideological purity. And if that means a few Cowboys fans get elected, I can live with that.