In 2002, as a newly elected official I gave a presentation to a local civic group where I spoke with enthusiasm about taking on the status quo and bringing reform on behalf of the taxpayers.
I could point to any number of abuses and give the roadmap to mitigate them, thereby reforming government and taking on the “old guard” politicians that had dominated local and state politics for many years, much to the detriment of our community and our state.
After the presentation I took questions from the audience. I can still recall a bit of a contrariwise concern from another recently appointed official who shared my ideals for reform but worried: “How can we tell when we have become just like them?”
In retrospect, and with the subsequent observations and experiences of the ensuing years as an elected official, I realize the importance of his question.
Time and again I have seen the reformer, albeit with all the good intentions in the world, transition into the status quo. I have observed the effects of power and seen how it transforms good people into bad politicians.
A new person takes office with a real desire to restore the balance of power to taxpayers, only to eventually fall prey to their own selfish ambitions. It isn’t always easy to know if your elected official has devolved from a reformer to another cog of the status quo. But it happens frequently.
Worse, those who originally supported the reformer for the right reasons, may continue to support this person without realizing they are now supporting a status quo politician who no longer acts according to the values they touted when they asked for voter support.
After witnessing a number of these scenarios, I badly wanted to avoid falling into the trap of supporting those who have become co-opted.
I needed some clear criteria and indicators that would allow me to cut my losses and look for a new reform minded leader who would return the balance of the power to the people. As early as 2008, I began describing these indicators in these articles.
Here are three easy ones.
A politician has almost certainly become a co-opted member of the political class when he asks for a tax increase, votes against approving new transparencies or waters down existing transparency policies, or votes a benefit to himself such as a personal raise hike or a significant increase in his own budget.
These indicators likely reveal the current state of an elected official’s heart. When a politician violates one of these items, you should be on guard. More likely than not, he has changed and should be replaced.
Let’s consider the example of an elected official who asks for a tax increase. Whether he realizes it or not, he waves the white flag of surrender when he asks to raise your taxes.
Americans are already heavily taxed at every level of government. Government taxes, fees, fines and associated costs most likely takes over half of your income either through direct or through pass-on costs.
When the need for more funding faces government officials, all too often, established politicians choose the easier task of launching a massive public relations campaign to convince people to pay more money, rather than fighting the tougher battle of lowering their own government’s budgets.
Ironically, this campaign for more taxpayer dollars usually means downplaying the fact that they have already mismanaged your money.
As a taxpayer, I want my elected official to do his job and do it well, without coming to me and asking for more money. When he asks for more taxes, he is admitting he is out of new ideas and is incapable of doing the job for which he was elected.
If that’s the case, he needs to step aside and let someone else give it a shot. If he refuses to step aside, the voters are compelled to elect someone else.