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Jason Miller County Council at Large


March 16, 2005

“We Have Met The Enemy and He Is Us:” Walt Kelly

Alan Imhoff

Have the two major political parties created a growing aristocracy of professional politicians?

Recently over lunch a friend of mine made the comment that a little over 200 years ago, our founding fathers declared independence from the nation that created the 13 colonies, for seven years fought a war on this continent to secure that independence, and then created the Constitution under which our government operates today. Very few of these founding fathers did that full-time.

For most states, counties and municipalities, they still operate under that model with part-time legislators drawn from a wide variety of professions. Unfortunately at the national level the two major parties – over the past 50 years or so – have created a full-time profession that seems to endlessly regenerate itself every two years.

Are we better off with this growing aristocracy, where sons and daughters follow in their parent’s footsteps? There even seems to be a burgeoning “trickle down” system whereby cousins take over the reins at the local and state levels as their relatives move up the chain of deference to larger responsibilities. Neither party is immune from this unintended consequence of mutual support of a constricting political structure.

Wouldn’t it be an interesting phenomenon if somehow we went back to part-time congressional legislators, my friend suggested? Instead of thinking up all these new laws to fill in time between election campaigns or playing the pork barrel polka during every budget cycle, these folks went back home and lived like the rest of us?

Then he commented on the current “find the pea under the shell” budget hustle going on within the walls of City Hall in downtown Frederick. When told that to get a copy of the draft budge might cost an arm and a leg for the 200 plus compendium generated for the edification of mayor and the consternation of the Board of Aldermen, he demurred.

In keeping with his original premise, he said he still would like to view the budget and see if there was a plan afoot to make the legislators of the historic city more like those of Congress rather than those traditions from the founding fathers. Or, at the very least, adding some shekels to ease the efforts of some to perpetuate a growing local mini-aristocracy for those hallowed halls.

He said instead of trying to justify making the legislators a full-time position with its attendant salary and benefits, maybe we taxpayers could call a halt to that by requiring the position be less than 20 hours a week and mandating that those serving actually read the briefing papers before attending meetings.

If two terms is good enough for the president of the United States and the governor of the State of Maryland, it should be good enough for City Hall as well. Then those elected would know they had a limited time to get things done before returning back to the simple life of a taxpayer. If nothing else, it might cause those making the decisions pause, as they would soon have to return to paying bills they created.

But as the ACC tournament continued on the screens over the bar, it became increasingly apparent that more important things were at hand at the MCI Center in downtown D.C.

I was intrigued by his comments, hence this article. But while the reality of today dictates that any of the above is fantasy, there are some kernels of truth.

What is it that we really expect our legislators to do?

First, we want them elected, and then we don’t want them to bother us again.

Second, we want them to provide all these services to us, while reducing taxes.

Third, we want terms limits on everyone else but our legislators.

And finally, when it comes time for us to elect again, we forget everything else and vote for the name we know.

So, in essence maybe it is not the two major parties creating this new American aristocracy, but us. We don’t have the time to really get involved, especially now that the second period of March Madness is set to begin.



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