I’m often asked how difficult it is working multiple jobs as a citizen legislator. No surprise, it’s challenging. Regardless of what some believe, for many legislators, serving as an elected official comes at significant personal cost. Lost income, lost family time, and the stress of trying to represent tens of thousands of Alaskans with very diverse views and issues.
Most legislators are serving in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s during the prime career building and earning years of life. Ironically, as I’ll explain later, that’s precisely why they are important. Unless they are bent on being a career politician, it’s not an easy decision to put a career on hold, or balance the demands of a second job needed to pay the bills when not in session.
I sometimes wonder, though, is it worth the cost, the sacrifice? And the stubbornly persistent answer I can’t escape is always the same – of course it is. What happens in Juneau regarding the direction our state takes affects us all. What my children and grandchildren inherit from us is what drives me, I want to leave it better than I found it. Public service should be considered a privilege not a prize.
Can you imagine what an Alaskan Legislature would look like under the influence of only those who were retired or wealthy enough to serve?
With re-districting and gerrymandering forcing 59 of 60 legislative seats to be up for election this year, it’s a good time to consider why we might want part time legislators vs. a career political class.
At the base it’s a simple question. Would Alaskans rather have a full-time legislature and career politicians? If we did, the only ones who’d be able to serve would be the wealthy, retired or those with a working spouse whose job is good enough to pay the bills. I believe the answer is a resounding no. There’s no way Alaskans want an elitist political class governing our state. Why?
Look no farther than Washington D.C. to observe what career politicians give us. Corruption, crony capitalism, crushing debt, special interest run amok – it’s a long list. There are legislators in Alaska who have served for two or three decades, a few even longer. Very few people, human nature being what it is, can resist the temptation of power and its corrosive effects over time. As Lord Acton once wrote, “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
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A citizen legislature has people from all walks of life, not just a career political class. Top income earners and retirees have been well represented in our Legislature – nothing inherently wrong with that. A part time citizen legislature, however, has many not in those categories who must work outside their legislative duties. They are tied to the private sector economy and community in ways which bring a critical perspective to how they govern, thus providing a more balanced legislative body. The reality is most working-class legislators don’t stay in office too long, they can’t afford to. If they don’t exit stage left after a few terms, they probably had other plans in mind. Let me “circle back” to the career politician angle.
Can you imagine what an Alaskan Legislature would look like under the influence of only those who were retired or wealthy enough to serve? A career political class with little to no ties to the vast majority of working-class Alaskans who must survive in the private sector. Our state government is already under significant influence from special interest. Why would we want to model D.C. and “step it up a notch” by ceding power to a state level oligarchy – “rule by a few or dominant class?”
I don’t think we do, but that choice has always been up to you.
The views expressed here are those of the author.