Sometimes voters elect officers on a platform of reform and innovation. The new office holder starts out with the best intentions, excited and ready to implement new ideas, but over time he changes into a self-centered career politician whose primary motivation becomes the extension of his political life.
So how do you know if your elected official has stopped striving for reform? In 2008 I wrote about three criteria voters can use as accurate indicators of the elected official’s transition:
• Has he attempted to increase your taxes? (See hd31.org/509 for the 2008 article and hd31.org/512 for last week’s article about this item.)
• Does he oppose transparency? (hd31.org/510)
• Has he voted himself a pay increase? (hd31.org/511)
If he/she answers yes to at least one of these questions, odds are that the politician’s heart has changed and it is time to elect someone else.
A true public servant has nothing to hide. He knows everything he does with taxpayer dollars should be open to the public. When a politician votes or takes action against transparency, he is saying he does not want the taxpayers to have true oversight. He feels it is OK for him to forcibly take away your property and liberty through taxation, while inhibiting you from overseeing his spending of your money. The co-opted official hates transparency. He knows his public persona remains one of a reformer and transparency risks exposing his true MO to the public. He may even attempt to bully those who do know the truth into not talking.
When I wrote about the transparency issue in 2008, I had little idea how real this concept would become to me. In 2012, working with House of Representatives Speaker Kris Steele and Sen. David Holt, we sponsored legislation to apply Oklahoma’s transparency laws to the state Legislature. The Legislature makes transparency laws that apply to other government entities, but exempts itself from these same laws. In the business world, this hypocrisy isn’t defensible. But in the upside-down world of the Capitol, openness and transparency seem alien and scary.
It was especially heartbreaking to experience intense opposition from those legislators who are almost always strong allies in the fight for transparency. I have always appreciated and do not take for granted the votes of these legislators when we are advancing transparency reforms. But it became clear that while they were very supportive of transparency for others, they were opposed to transparency for themselves. I still have a tough time coming to terms with the fact that some of those whom I greatly respect can’t see through the hypocrisy.
Being a servant to the public should be a sacrifice. It should be a limited time of sacrificial giving to the community and should never become a well-paid political career. An elected official who votes himself a raise does not understand this vital concept. He no longer has the heart of a public servant.
This self-serving practice of voting for large raises was a trend in Logan County government for several years. I wrote the first three criteria after observing County Commissioners vote for not one, but two large raises! Worse yet, and unbelievably, the raises applied retroactively. Since that time, thankfully the practice has come to an end.
Here is a fourth important criteria: Has the elected official run out of innovative new ideas?
Technology provides the means to innovate like never before. Longtime office holders too-often view their political office as a personal career rather than a real opportunity to better serve the taxpayer through innovation. Maintaining the status quo is easy, but real reform and innovation is hard work. An innovative elected official won’t hesitate to explain his ideas and future plans. A co-opted, lazy or cynical official will have few ideas and little enthusiasm about his work.
When you are solicited for support for someone who wishes to stay in office, please carefully apply these four criteria before casting your vote.
REP. JASON MURPHEY, R-Guthrie, represents House District 31, which encompasses all of Logan County and a portion of northern Edmond. He may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.