01 November 2006

Down Ticket Voter Apathy

Polls show that the races for State Treasurer and for Secretary of State in Colorado are very close. This is, once again, proof of the power of voter apathy, and of why these largely ministerial posts shouldn't be run by partisan elected officials, whom voters select largely based on party identification.

State Treasurer

The state treasurer has virtually no policy making authority, so political experience and partisan bent is not of great importance to doing the job. The treasurer does not propose or approve legislation. Instead, the treasurer hands out abandoned property to its rightful owners, confirms that checks written by the rest of the legislative branch have a legislative basis, invests state money, and supervises the public offering of bonds by the state. The state treasurer does not collect taxes or set tax policy, and does not authorize spending or prepare the state budget, although the state treasurer must be familiar with the state budget.

In this race, Republican Mark Hillman is facing off against Democrat Cary Kennedy.

Mark Hillman has been a part-time farmer for the past seven years, and before that he was a small town newspaper reporter. He isn't a college graduate, although he has attended some college.

Cary Kennedy "earned a masters degree in public administration from Columbia University in 1993 and a Juris Doctor from the University of Denver College of Law in 1995. Cary is a member of the Colorado bar. Cary worked in the Governor's Office of State Planning and Budgeting[.]"

Simply put, there isn't a medium or large sized private business in the state that would hire Hillman to be a CFO, and no merit system appointment in a governmental agency would either. In contrast, an M.P.A. is the government equivalent of an M.B.A., which is a common private sector credential for a CFO, and a J.D. is a not uncommon credential for a CFO. Hillman wouldn't even get an interview in the real world. In the political system, however, he now has even odds of getting the job, because in the absence of strong pressures otherwise, Colorado voters lean slightly Republican.

Without the party labels, no one would even consider Hillman for this post.

Secretary of State

Republican Mike Coffman is facing Democrat Ken Gordon in the race for Secretary of State. While this puts the winner in charge of corporate filings, uniform commercial code filings, notary licenses, and bingo licenses, the Secretary of State's race is almost always about the part of the job that involves impartially running fair elections in the state.

Mike Coffman is a convicted election law violator. Ken Gordon isn't. Does anything else really matter after that? There are plenty of people who could have been nominated for this post. Mike Coffman was an odd choice to be that nominee.

Bottom Line

This year, the Democrats are clearly superior candidates in the races for state treasurer and secretary of state. But, in the long run, the more important conclusion to draw is that neither post should be a partisan elected office.


Anonymous said...

I asked a recently retired sheriff about elected and appointed positions. He actually felt that appointed positions were more political, as they tended to be given as a reward to loyal supporters.

You mention "merit system appointment." Can you give an example of an agency that appoints its highest positions based on merit?

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Both political appointees and elected officials are political to some extent. But, appointments come with "resume bias". For example, even though both New York and Colorado allow non-laywer judges, this happens very rarely in Colorado where municipal and state judges are both appointed, and very often in New York, where they are elected.

Similarly, while someone with political aspirations might get appointed to the treasurer's position, it won't be someone with no academic background in finance.

Similarly, the Montrose County Coroner (an overwhelmingly rural Republican area), a mere EMT (who won the ill attended Republican primary by one vote over a more qualified candidate) who did research on end of life decisions on the internet, through the state's organ donation program into a tizzy and accused a hospital of murder when he incorrectly determined that they hadn't done the proper tests to find that the donor was dead. A medical doctor wouldn't have made that mistake.

Also, some jobs are more political than others. Many jobs are ministerial and provide few outlets for people to express political ideologies unless you really try hard to do so.

All agencies have some political appointees of senior people. But, that doesn't go very far down. In Colorado, about 300 people in state government are non-merit system appointees. In the federal government, it is about 7,000, many of whom are on boards and commissions. Many non-political appointees are pretty senior. For example, in Colorado, the warden of a particular prison would typically be a merit system appointee. Similarly, the head of a local driver's license bureau would be a merit system appointee.

IIRC, there are just three people besides the state treasurer in that office who are political appointees.