In St. Louis County, Missouri, there are approximately 45 elected political offices. (The exact number is difficult to determine and varies among jurisdictions). If there were primary elections in each party, but none contested, and no third parties, citizens would need to be aware of 90 candidates.Usually, though, primary nominations are contested, so there can be as many as 150 candidates.
We need to simplify the number of offices for which voters cast their preferences. In accordance with the Constitution and common sense, here are seven individuals, or necessary pairs, that make sense for all of us on a national basis.
1. President & Vice-President
2. U.S. Senator
3. U.S. Congressperson
4. State governor (other statewide positions could be appointed as “states’ rights” are diminished and simplified)
5. State legislator (all states could follow the example of Nebraska and move to a unicameral –one house–legislature).
6. Municipal area executive (mayor of the metropolitan area in which one lives)
7. Metropolitan area council representative
If there were two candidates running in the primary elections for each of these races, there would be four candidates in each race and a total of twenty-eight for the seven positions.
Anyone who can easily keep tabs of twenty-eight individuals running for important offices has quite a memory, as well as the ability to assess the strengths and weaknesses of each individual candidate. And yet our likelihood of getting to know and remembering more than twenty-eight or so candidates is far better than 150.
In essence, we have a gap between the number of people who want to run for office and those offices that are really needed to make government function. If there are seven offices, available but well over 45 that exist, then far more people want to run for office than are necessary. This disparity further exacerbates the problem of individuals running for offices that are better served as appointed positions rather than elected ones.
So what can we do about the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of individuals who want to run for positions such as recorder of deeds, treasurer, state secretary of state, etc. that are better appointed than elected?
There are essentially three reasons why individuals want to run for office. First, they like the power that comes with the position. This is part and parcel for many, perhaps most, who run for office. Second, they want to have a direct impact on solving the individual needs of constituents. Third, they want to abuse the office; looking for opportunities for corruption and miscarriage of justice.
Each of these options exists in almost any profession. All we can do is what we have already been doing; keep an eagle eye on all individuals and do whatever is necessary to ensure that politicians are operating properly, while preventing them from abusing whatever temptations may corrupt them. Concerns about one’s behavior exist whether the position is a corporate executive, a labor leader, a teacher, a fire fighter, a police officer, or virtually any other job, civic responsibility, or family member.
The city of St. Louis has twenty-eight alderpersons for a community with a population of slightly over 300,000. Efforts have been made to reduce the number of alderpersons, but with no success. There has been virtually no movement because the entrenched want to keep the offices they hold. This is not only true for alderpersons; it applies to virtually all elected offices.
I’ve written before about political change being measured in generations rather than election cycles. Significant reduction of the number of political offices for which citizens vote may take more than a single generation. In the meantime, our brains will be overtaxed, and as a society we’ll be overtaxed because of inefficiencies and confusion. Let’s just hold on; hopefully, positive change will come while most of us are still around to see it.
Since 1969, Arthur Lieber has been teaching and working in non-profit educational organizations. His focus has been on promoting critical, creative, and enjoyable learning for students in informal settings. In the 2010 mid-term elections, he was the Democratic nominee for US Congress from Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District.