My Vida Loca as an Elected Public Official
Commissioner Tommy Adkisson
October 24, 2002
I have in general had so many wonderful experiences as a public official. So much so, that no particular challenging moment has as of yet derailed the unbridled enthusiasm for public life kindled in me when I was just nineteen years old. Even the local difficulties affecting city hall, which we are experiencing right now, require us to put the scenario being viewed by this community into its proper context.
I personally know the councilmen recently accused and have found them to be in the main, good human beings and good public servants. As they stand accused right now, they are by law, innocent until proven guilty. Time will tell what the facts are. The biblical quotation comes to mind: "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." John 8: 32.
Whether innocent or guilty, these are moments of sober reflection on the way all of us do business in government as elected officials. Money is a necessary evil in public life. How it is obtained and used are of the utmost concern. Those of us who run for public office are in constant need of money: some for campaigns and some for the endless list of community good deed-doers seeking to raise money for their special causes.
As we view the unfolding page in the contemporary history of our local government, it is well to place all of this in its proper historical context. According to Will and Ariel Durant in their wonderful book entitled "The Lessons of History", they tell us that monarchy has been the most common form of government and democracy but hectic interludes between monarchies. Benjamin Franklin was said to have responded to the inquiry of a young boy-student of the 1787 U.S. Constitutional Convention that we had a democracy in America, if we could keep it.
I firmly believe that we have the finest democracy in the world, yet I say that with a stipulation that we are a work in progress. One of the most challenging issues in elected public life is campaign finance. I believe that we might describe our form of democracy as either a "moneyocracy" or an "economocracy". Participants tend to drive the process whether they are the PGA proponents or the Toyota Company. Hence the word money or economy I grafted onto the last half of the word democracy.
The presence of money in the process is not in and of itself a problem. Big private money, however that is described, usually is a problem. I have spent a lifetime running against incumbents. I know that candidates are often are seen as commodities by some of the donor community. This is not to disparage the donor motives of many good and decent donors. But let's face it: If you seek to influence, the odds of beating an incumbent are small. Hence the flow of most political money to incumbents by the donors.
However, the out of control campaign spending surely must result in a skewing of our public priorities. Until some rectification of this our best in the world democracy, the voice of big money will drown-out or unfairly compete with the voices of the people. I have previously proposed a way, not a perfect way, but a way nonetheless to tame the 500 pound guerilla of money in elections. Naturally our present campaign finance malady requires an appropriate remedy.
In brief, capped expenditures commensurate with the various offices, a significant number of signatures, a respectable number of small donations, an agreement to debate opponents in the election should qualify the candidate for limited public financing. Free airtime should be made available through our publicly licensed electronic media. None of this is perfect but it does provide a framework or a point of discussion for resolving one of the more vexing problems of elected public life.
With all of life's priorities, it is very hard to effectively solve the great questions of the day like campaign finance at the local or the national level. Yet in this time of difficulty lie some opportunities. Let us engage a robust discussion and let it be one that does the most good for our community for years to come.