We just went through our annual trauma of the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Among those killed and injured were hundreds of police, firefighters, and EMTs. All are heroes. Yet, in the name of “ethics reform”, our governor has just punched them in the gut, along with exhibiting similar disrespect for other public employees like teachers, public defenders, and park maintenance personnel – to name a few.
Christie’s proposal would bar any state or local employee from running for public office. His rationale is to avoid a conflict of interest and to ensure that the employee is getting paid for work actually performed. This is a typical simplistic Christie solution for a not-so-simple problem.
Yes, there is a potential conflict of interest when a teacher or police officer in elected office has to vote on issues relating to his or her profession. But the same is true for any legislator – whether he or she is an attorney, insurance broker, or even a retiree. We must demand that legislators recuse themselves from issues that have a direct financial bearing on their profession, but no profession should be excluded from elected office. We need a diverse set of professions in our legislatures – not just lawyers like Mr. Christie.
The issue of “double-dipping” is also specious. Salaried or “exempt” employees are compensated on a fixed basis, and typically work overtime to get their jobs done. All exempt employee in the legislature would be evaluated in their primary jobs by their supervisors, and treated accordingly. Non-exempt, or hourly employees, would simply not get paid for the time away from their primary jobs, while receiving compensation from their government branch.
Working as a legislator, mayor, or other public position is not easy. Constituents are never happy, and problems with budgets abound. We need the “best and brightest” in these important positions, and we should not shut out an entire class of people simply based on their chosen profession. So as long as we have a part-time legislature, we should allow professional first responders and other public servants the opportunity to serve in elected positions.