Thursday, October 25, 2012

Guam Legislature from a labor perspective and a rallying call

How often have you heard the trope that non-voters have no right to complain? I have heard it so so often, usually from people with whom I would normally agree. But I do not agree. I think that George Carlin had a pretty good riff on this:

I have solved this political dilemma in a very direct way: I don't vote. On Election Day, I stay home. I firmly believe that if you vote, you have no right to complain. Now, some people like to twist that around. They say, 'If you don't vote, you have no right to complain,' but where's the logic in that? If you vote, and you elect dishonest, incompetent politicians, and they get into office and screw everything up, you are responsible for what they have done. You voted them in. You caused the problem. You have no right to complain. I, on the other hand, who did not vote -- who did not even leave the house on Election Day -- am in no way responsible for that these politicians have done and have every right to complain about the mess that you created.

I recently came across another version of the "blame the voter/non-voter": the idea that we get the government we deserve. I found another George Carlin quote where he says much the same thing:

If you have selfish, ignorant citizens, you're going to get selfish, ignorant leaders. Term limits ain't going to do any good; you're just going to end up with a brand new bunch of selfish, ignorant Americans. So, maybe, maybe, maybe, it's not the politicians who suck. Maybe something else sucks around here... like, the public. Yeah, the public sucks. There's a nice campaign slogan for somebody: 'The Public Sucks. F*** Hope."

That, in essence, is the argument I heard, with less of the humor and profanity. I think the people deserve better and I think poor leadership has more to do with the politicians who are out there than the sub-optimal choices of the voters (although there is obviously a problem with that, too).

I think of this as a labor market issue. We have supply, represented by those people who choose to run for public office, and demand, represented by who the voters are willing to elect. In the Guam Legislature, we 15 seats and usually about 30 (sometimes a little less) politicians seeking the slots. When I look at the list of candidates in any election, I see that roughly 20 are reasonably qualified, IMHO. That means that, practically, voters are stuck with rejecting up to 5 of them. I don't quite know why voters can only vote for 15 candidates (yes, I know there are 15 slots, but why can't some voters choose to effectively vote AGAINST a few candidates instead of FOR up to 15?), but we do, but I digress.

It seems to me that in order to have a GENUINE choice, you needs at least double the amount of qualified applicants for every slot. There will always be marginal choices, but we shouldn't be forced to take almost all comers (in this case 75% of all applicants). This reminds me very much of public education, where there is such a dearth of fully-certified teachers that DOE pretty much has to take any certified teacher that applies and still has to accept temporary certificate-holders as limited term appointments (although that situation is more dire). The problem with the Guam Legislature is that not enough highly qualified professionals want to run for senator. I have a solution in mind. Currently, it is illegal for classified employees (but legal for unclassified employees) to run for public office. If that were changed, I believe there would be a more active legislative race every 2 years.

It used to be legal and Guam had a part-time legislature with teachers and other public employees also serving as senators. It might be more feasible to return to that if the race were opened up to classified employees. But I wouldn't do that, at least not right away. We first need to see that it works and that the people have a genuine choice in each General Election. After all, if the problem is with supply, as I suggest, allowing classified employees to contest elections may increase the supply only marginally. Will it add 5 more or 10? If it adds 5 more, then that's better than nothing, but it wouldn't make much sense to restrict the supply by reducing the compensation for holding public office.

I may agree or disagree with those who are elected to serve in the Guam Legislature, but, on average, I'd say that most of them are more suitable to serve as senators than those who don't make the cut. There are still problems with the demand-side, specifically, that low-information voters do not help the community to choose the "best" candidates, but that has more to do with political education and should primarily be led by schools (for the young to learn history and the social sciences), political parties and grassroots organizations (including unions). One more point: stay involved, stay connected, read the newspapers, read Guam history, read about history, politics, philosophy and economics, read blogs, watch the tv news (KUAM or PNC), listen to the governor's/speaker's addresses, listen to K57 or other talk radio and take everything anyone tells you (including me, probably) with a grain of salt. Be skeptical, question official stories, gain knowledge, talk with others about politics, organize and be engaged. I don't blame those who have lost hope and don't vote. Each moment is a new beginning: just because you didn't contribute before does not mean you will not contribute in the future. We all have identities and experiences which are unique to ourselves and you need to think that no one can be your voice better than you can!

Sort-of related posts:

Old hands, new hands and flashbulbs
Comments on the Calvo administration's 'spending cuts' and the debt ceiling
Possible response from McNinch (different topic)
Lee Webber admits why he wants a part-time legislature
Functions of the Guam Legislature
A view of Guam's Primary election

No comments:

Post a Comment