Why so few legislative candidates?

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This week in Urban Tulsa Weekly I considered Oklahoma's just-concluded legislative filing period and the decline in number of candidates filing, explaining the deterrents to running for state legislature.

Steve Fair, a Republican Party official in southwestern Oklahoma, wondered about a related topic, the early departure of many House Republicans:

Why are so many Oklahoma GOP House members leaving office before they are termed out? There are a variety of reasons, but here is my "spin" on why a record number of Republican members are bailing in 2008.

Some Oklahoma House Republican members are leaving because they are young and ambitious. They are chasing the dollar or the next rung on the political ladder. Those members have never been dedicated to helping Oklahoma move forward and their departure will not leave a ripple in the political pond. Their selfishness and "me first" attitudes have not endeared them to the GOP grassroots or to Oklahoma voters as a whole. That may partially account for their early departures, but a more likely factor will be their own selfish interests. Twenty years from now their impact in the legislature will be little more than a notation in the Oklahoma Political Almanac. They ran for office because it looks good on their resume. They could care less about the issues or the average Oklahoman- it's all about them.

Other members are leaving because they have become disgusted with the process. After serving in the minority for the early part of their tenure in the House, optimism was high in 2004 when the GOP gained a majority. These "gray hairs" thought they would be called upon for advice and counsel, but instead many were passed over for newly elected, younger, more aggressive members. The new leadership rebuffed their experience and ability to work across the aisle with their Democrat counterparts in a gracious manner.

The situational ethics practiced by the new "principled" leadership was inconsistent with what was being press released to the public. The older members concerns on how business was being conducted was ignored and berated. The new GOP mandate was not working for the benefit of Oklahoma, but staying in power and increasing the number of "R"s. Any and all campaign methods- right or wrong- was on the table, if it won elections. Seeing no real difference in the policies and actions of the new GOP leadership and the old Democrat leadership, these members opted to leave early. Their departure is not a positive one and their experience will be missed.

He doesn't use the name "Lance Cargill," but the former Speaker and his posse fit the description of the young, aggressive, and ambitious. The Republican caucus and the House as a whole are better off without them.

At the end of my column, I wrote, "Even if we don't raise their pay, we ought to pay our respects to those who are willing to serve us in the legislature. When a candidate comes knocking on your door this summer and fall, give him or her a few minutes of your time, listen, ask questions, and treat the candidate with kindness and respect. It's the least you can do for someone willing to make personal sacrifices for the sake of serving you at the state Capitol."

Fair says that in exchange for their hard work, candidates should be able to expect from the voters engagement in the process, attention to the issues, civility, and the absence of vandalism, harassment, and dirty tricks. Fair points the finger at inattentive voters for the influence of money in politics (emphasis added):

Money and media have always driven politics but in the past twenty-five years that has escalated to new heights. It's not uncommon to see Oklahoma state legislative candidates now raise and spend six figures to run for an office that pays $38,500 annually. Some blame the big donors, the Political Action Committees, the lobbyists, and special interest groups for the infusion of money into the process, but are they really to blame? The real culprit is the average citizen and/or voter who for a variety of reasons have stopped taking equity in his government. Indifference or only causal knowledge of what is going on in your government leads to "defining" by candidates- both of themselves and their opponents. Elections are now won on popularity and not on issues.

In a survey conducted by Harvard University, one candidate describes campaigning in the 21st century like this. "I've been actively involved in politics for over 19 years now. I've even run for public office. Getting voters to even pay attention to government for 5 minutes is a struggle. Most citizens get their information from either sound bites from the propaganda machine that some people still naively refer to as the media and others get it twisted from others without checking the facts. Dealing with the average voter is like dealing with a dyslexic hyperactive kid on drugs." In the same survey, a voter says the greatest cause for voter apathy is people feel politicians promise the world and then forget their promises once elected to office. That's why it's important to know the facts and not just base your vote on a clever jingle, logo or commercial.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on June 13, 2008 6:39 PM.

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