The people rule, or micromanage?

By Steve Brawner
© 2014 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

The election is over. How did you do?

I’m not asking how many winners you picked. Being in the majority and being right are not the same. The question is, how well do you think you performed your hiring responsibilities?

Most of us probably made a reasonably informed choice in the U.S. Senate race. Despite all the misinformation we’ve heard over the last 18 months, most of us were familiar with the candidates and had an idea of where they stood and what they were about. Same for the governor’s race, and probably for the U.S. House of Representatives. Most of us probably were confident about the more straightforward ballot issues that affect real people – whether or not to raise the minimum wage, and whether or not alcohol should be sold in every county.

The farther down the ballot we went, however, the less confident we were. Let’s be honest: When it came to some of the lesser offices, most of us were just guessing based on not very good reasons. Nothing against him personally, but I’m convinced that Charlie Daniels made a career in Arkansas politics partly because he had the same name as the guy who sings “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

Could we trim these lo-o-ong ballots just a little? Could we at least let the governor appoint three positions that few Arkansans care about: treasurer, auditor, and land commissioner? I’m not sure why we’re electing some of these local offices, either, such as the county coroner.

On Election Day, voters should be responsible for selecting policymakers who make and enforce the laws that govern our lives. Then we should monitor those policymakers to ensure their decisions reflect our priorities. In other words, we should be our state’s board of directors.

Governors, mayors and county judges should function like the president of our business. They should be responsible for hiring those who simply perform a specific bureaucratic function – such as dispose of tax-delinquent property, which is what the land commissioner does. I as a voter don’t need to elect that person any more than I need to elect the person in charge of the landscaping along the highway. The governor already appoints positions that are far more important, such as highway commissioners, and there doesn’t seem to be a movement to elect those.

The objection to appointing these positions is that it would give the governor more power and open the door for more cronyism. Maybe he’d just hire his buddies for these three jobs that don’t pay very much.

That’s a concern. To counteract that, the public must hold the governor accountable for potential misdeeds in his administration. If state government functioned more like a business and the treasurer were appointed, then after Martha Shoffner accepted those bribes, the governor would have fired her, and then he would have had to stand before his shareholders – the state of Arkansas – and explain all red-faced why he hired this person as state treasurer in the first place. Instead, we the voters had elected someone we’d never heard of to do a job few of us can even describe.

Americans are raised to believe that more is always better. Two scoops are better than one, and a super-size is better than a medium.

But more voting does not necessarily lead to a better democracy. At the same time, not enough voting opens the door for insider cronyism. I don’t know where the sweet spot is, but voters should focus on those offices that make policies and actually run the government, and not be expected to hire those simply doing a job. After all, our state’s motto is, “The people rule,” not, “The people micromanage.”

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