Elected Representation Shouldn't Be a Full-Time Career
AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos
Elected Representation Shouldn't Be a Full-Time Career
AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos
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Back in December, the Houston Chronicle interviewed Alicia Caballero, a hazardous waste quality assurance professional in the Corpus Christi area.  The report was centered on her drive to increase the pay of Texas legislators so that citizens with “normal jobs” could “serve fellow citizens through policymaking."

It brought to mind former Mayor Ed Garza’s effort in 2004 to (if memory serves) “professionalize” San Antonio city council by raising their salaries.  Just enough voters eventually consented in 2015. 

This is as bad an idea now as it was back then, regardless of jurisdiction.

One thing all elective bodies have in common is that rare are their actions that contribute to the well-being of their respective constituents.  More often, they’re detrimental.

The impetus for Ms. Caballero’s quest was a “dystopian future glimpse” borne of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ growing wealth during the pandemic.  The expiration of a wage bump for Amazon employees “felt like a ridiculous imbalance” to her.

Right away, it became clear she felt she would be a better manager of enterprises in which she has no personal stake. 

Helpful here would be a dash of humility in recognition of the fact that the vast majority of us don’t possess the intestinal fortitude necessary to lift a company off the ground, much less keep it going.

Moreover, one detects a whiff of ingratitude toward an organization that, to a degree, has made life easier during the shutdowns and government-caused recession.

Instead, these fellow travelers do a disservice to prospective constituents by trying to persuade them that businesses/economies are better off when centrally planned by the state.

This is nearly always a counterproductive exercise, succeeding only in being self-serving.  It entrenches the orchestrating political class, as they continually expand their dockets of things “to do.” 

It’s no surprise then when the cabal lobbies for greater compensation.  It’s a perverse cycle.

There is no doubt an element of sacrifice that comes with throwing your hat in the ring for elected office. 

Some of your life, and that of your family, falls under a spotlight.  You trade leisurely pursuits for attention to, and the demands of your constituents. 

Contributing to the genuine betterment of the community via the private sector and continuing to support your constituency at home, to your maximum potential, should not be one of the sacrifices. 

It doesn’t have to be, and it’s really not even the salary that’s the obstacle.

While it’s not the same as removing oneself to Austin for six months every other year, council schedule injects kinks into an otherwise normal workday.  And this occurs weekly, every year.

It’s certainly true that 8-5 schedules have become more flexible over time.  Technology has allowed us to spread our work over more hours per day, and more days per week. 

There are many of us however, that need to be plugged in during traditional work hours.  Some provide goods and services for which the demands during this time are constant. 

To pull them away from that for two-to-five-hour morning and afternoon sessions is not optimal.

Speaking as one who spends almost three hours one or two evenings each week teaching college, pushing regular council meetings beyond dusk is eminently doable.  It might even provide kids a good civics lesson to do homework at city hall while mom or dad fulfills their duties.

If staff needs to be there to assist, excessive council salaries could be redirected to them as overtime, or they could flex their own work schedules.  If yet more guidance is needed from council, it’s a decent indicator that the public sector is “doing” too much. 

Elected representatives are meant to reflect the will of their respective constituencies.  They’re there to set the tone.  They shouldn’t be grinding the gears of bureaucracy to the extent that was cited as justification for the salary hike of a few years ago. 

Incidentally, should the effort to have local government retreat in scale and scope prevail, the area median wage to which salaries were set would arguably rise. 

As the predictable gulf between community prosperity and political interference grows, some of the exorbitant compensation could be returned to the taxpayers, which in turn would necessarily create more affluence.

It’s a virtuous cycle.

If this sounds too pie-in-the-sky, bear in mind how predictions of rainbows-and-unicorns resulting from public sector action usually turn out to be more like storms and mules.

As history has shown repeatedly, getting the state off our collective back is usually what results in a full-bloom blossoming of citizens.   

Christopher E. Baecker manages fixed assets at Pioneer Energy Services, teaches economics at Northwest Vista College, is a board member of the Institute of Objective Policy Assessment, and is a member of the San Antonio Business & Economics Society.  He can be reached via email or Facebook

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