Government, by design, has dozens of problems worthy of criticism, but among the less frequently discussed topics is how often frequent elected officials don’t finish what they start.
Public officials at all levels of government quit their jobs. Often. Be it for to run for higher office, to tend to family issues, because of work obligations, or because they find the job to be a terrible one, at all levels of government, we see the people who once pandered for our votes step away from a position and leave taxpayers in a lurch in ways that go beyond the financial burden.
In legislative or executive position vacancies, voters are left unrepresented until a special election or appointment occurs while judicial vacancies can lead to a slow down in a system that is supposed to be among the most efficient services provided by government.
When an early resignation occurs, taxpayers are saddled with the costs of a special election. Depending on office, this can cost several thousand dollars and rural communities with limited funds are disproportionately impacted. And, of course, political parties hate special elections because turnout is low and there is no primary. Races get crowded and districts that lean one way can flip to the opposing party due to a shortened race, low information voters, and off-year election turnout. More and more frequently, we’re ending up with representatives whose values barely resemble those of their district.
In instances where a vacancy is filled by appointment, be it by the Governor or by the governing body on which the vacancy is announced, taxpayers lose out to the band of brothers who appoint their friends and like-minded individuals over diverse, representative officials who have different skill sets and alternative qualifications. When the election comes around, the appointed official has a leg up with an “(I) for incumbent” next to their name on the ballot and an incumbent-friendly war chest, effectively squashing opposition. It wouldn’t be so bad if elected officials didn’t frequently resign at inopportune times with a replacement in mind to rig the system by appointment instead of opening it up for voters to decide.
All of this because elected officials don’t finish what they start.
Of course, we can’t stop people from taking jobs in the private sector, or moving, or dying, and when someone is facing federal indictments (looking at you, Jim Beck), they should absolutely step aside, but our state should put more parameters in place to protect citizens when someone steps down.
For starters, someone serving in an elected position should not be eligible to be appointed to another position unless it will take effect after the end of their term. A state representative or state senator shouldn’t be eligible to slide into a spot as head of a state agency or on the Court of Appeals unless it begins after the term they are currently sworn in for is completed. Maybe there should be a penalty for an elected official who opts to ‘retire’ or seek higher office before the end of their term.
It’s easy to say we would like elected officials to foot the bill for the special election they initiate, but a quick “I can’t afford that” would have them off the hook in no time.
A better alternative would be to require that elected officials at all levels of government pay monthly dues to a special election fund. Whether that comes from their campaign account, their official government salary, or their personal account matters not, but a fund established by those serving in office could easily help offset the costs of special elections at the local, county, state, and judicial levels.
Think about it:
If the 236 members of the Georgia General Assembly, 13 statewide officials, 159 Sheriffs, 159 district attorneys, 159 coroners, an estimated 800 county commissioners, the city officials in Georgia’s 595 cities (guesstimate another ~3,000 elected officials), and all the judicial positions at the state and county level, you easily have 5,000 elected positions across the state. Add another ~900 school board members. If each paid dues of $5 per month would rake in just over $29,500 per month – or $354,000 annually. That would be more than enough to cover the cost of any special election across the state, and it would be on the shoulders of elected officials, not taxpayers.
It shouldn’t be so easy to step away from a job they ask for, but preparations should be made for those few times when the commitment can’t – or won’t – be honored. Public service is a promise to serve, not a hobby, not a stepping stone, and not a networking tool. Looking out for the public should be priority number one and limiting how one advances through the ranks while setting aside a rainy day fund seems like a small price to pay for the opportunity to serve the public.
Perhaps if there was more sacrifice and less gain, we would have a more community-oriented form of governance.