As we begin the downhill slide toward the midterm elections, the qualifications for holding political office (or lack thereof) is a subject that springs to mind.
A minimum level of qualification is needed to drive a car, practice certain trades, such as law or medicine, or even to sell insurance, but the only qualifications for elected officials who want to run a city, state, or the country, is that they are alive, have been a resident of the district for at least some minimal period, and are able to pony up the filing fee.
Looking at some members of congress, one might even question whether the requirement that elected officials must be alive is rigorously enforced.
In cases where additional restrictions apply for a particular office, they are typically only minimum age requirements.
In Minnesota, filing fees range from $2 for some local offices, to $50 for county offices, to $100 for state senator or representative, to $400 for US senator. There is no filing fee for president or vice president.
It seems a little odd that candidates for mayor of a tiny burg like New Germany pay more to file for office ($2) than candidates who want to run the whole country, but that is how the government works. The perks get better the higher one goes.
Our founding fathers had seen what happens when governments are run by the inbred aristocracy, and they wanted to ensure that everyone had an equal chance to participate in government.
However, it seems that we could preserve the spirit of the law, while adding some elements that make sense in today’s world.
Following are the curmudgeon’s recommendations for proposed new requirements for elected officials:
1) There should be a basic math test so we can be sure the candidate understands that if one has, for example, $100 in the bank, one can’t spend $200.
That may seem ridiculously simple, but judging from the enormous deficits we have seen in recent years, it is apparent that the concept is one that politicians have failed to grasp.
Some government entities routinely spend more than they take in, and this needs to stop. Deficit spending should not be an option.
2) There should be a basic English test for candidates. It is not necessary that elected officials be fancy talkers, but evidence suggests that some incumbents have a lack of understanding of some simple but important words and phrases.
Words such as “essential,” “reform,” and “affordable” take on a completely different meaning in the hands of a politician.
It should be noted that the qualifications for election judges are already stricter than qualifications for candidates.
Election judges are required to be able to read, write, and speak English, and it seems reasonable that candidates should be held to the same standards.
3) There should be a brief history quiz. If people understand what has happened in the past, they are less likely to repeat the same mistakes in the future.
While we are at it, it wouldn’t hurt to think about term limits for those offices that don’t already have them.
Opponents of term limits say that elections already provide de facto term limits by giving voters the opportunity to boot the rascals out if they fail to provide satisfaction.
Elections should be more than popularity contests, however.
Term limits would provide two benefits.
First, politicians might be more willing to make difficult or controversial decisions, because they would not be worried about jeopardizing their chances of re-election.
Second, term limits might provide the motivation some politicians need to get things done now, rather than waiting until their next term.
Term limits might even eliminate the tendency of politicians to promise the same things term after term without delivering the goods.
We must always exercise caution when modifying the good work of our founding fathers, but perhaps even they would agree that, while we do not want to shut any viable candidates out of the process, there are benefits to electing candidates who are not the dimmest bulbs on the tree.
Adopting a few minor qualification reforms might help to improve our chances of getting good candidates.