Friday, May 15, 2015

A Crisis of Confidence: The Leadership Void In Politics

(John Diehl's scandal and resignation sparked several conversations about our elected officials. This topic was pervasive, and I think important.)

The John Diehl debacle is not a new story. Tony Messenger of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch did a great job of articulating that in his article. Messenger also pointed out the underlying issue of the “frat house” mentality in Jefferson City. What I found most interesting was the clearly bipartisan response to Messenger's article in full support of the message. Missouri (and really the country) has a problem. Our state has an issue, a genuine crisis of leadership and a lack of quality people in power.

It's hard to answer the real question: Why don't the high quality people with leadership skills run for public office? Likely there isn't one simple answer like “it doesn't pay enough” or “it's too much of a time commitment.” Those are parts of the whole. But there must be something about State politics, State leadership, local governance that doesn't always attract the best and brightest.


That's not to say we don't have some of those people in Jeff City. There are a handful. Term limits will get rid of some of them, but term limits will also get rid of some of the riffraff. Term limits are, as we know full well, a double edged sword. Senator David Pearce, District 21, (for those that read my posts often this is just proof that I am fair to both sides, Pearce is a Republican and I'm complimenting his work) is one of those people we need in our capital. He'll be term limited in 2016. Maybe he'll go one to do more in other positions, but who will fill his seat?*

Frankly, I don't care if the name has an R, D, or I next to it (or G, or any other party symbol) so long as they are an actual leader by deed, not just by name.

Leadership isn't created by title. True leadership creates the title. True leadership happens no matter the person's position and is noticeably absent in Missouri politics. Back to that question: why?


For starters, the pay isn't great. A lawmaker will make about $32,000.00 each legislative year. It's about the same as an average Missouri teacher. That's not much when you think of what a driven person capable of dealing with complex problems and leading in the workplace can make in the private market. Why would they want to sacrifice their time to take a pay cut? That theory only holds until a certain point. At some point, people with ability could be in a financial position that the pay cut won't matter. They can afford to sacrifice their time for a fraction of the normal worth. But there aren't that many people in this category.

$32,000.00 is just enough to attract people that want the money on top of their normal job and can't make that extra money in any other way. Pair it with free meals, trips, golf, sporting events, and that euphoric sensation of being in charge, and the average person attracted to state office is easy to imagine but scary to acknowledge.

Plus, the schedule is a nightmare. I've known enough staffers and interns to be familiar with their hours during session. Marathon legislative sessions, endless hours away from friends and family, days on end debating a bill that can't pass or won't have enough votes to override a veto. Sounds super fun.

Now strap on term limits. You have 8 years to do everything on your list! If you're lucky you can go from House to Senate and get 16, but that's it. Right after you settle in and get enough experience to be efficient at the work you'll need to leave so a new person can come in. It has nothing to do with your merits, track record, success, or anything you've done. Just time.
I'm sure there is more to the answer than what I've come up with, but no matter what we identify as the why there's still another step. How do we fix it?


I'll go out on what I think is a sturdy limb and say the voters of Missouri are not interested in paying their elected officials a full salary for the work. Term limits are too new to repeal at this point, and the work load isn't going anywhere. Maybe we could pay our elected officials nothing? That may eliminate some of the bottom feeders that see the job as a way to make money in addition to their private business, but how many would that really eliminate? Maybe a few right away, maybe a few more once they spend a session working on the budget for 36 hours straight only to remember in hour 33 they are not getting paid a dime for their work. But for so many the power that comes from office can be worth the time itself, and Missouri is just a microcosm of the national picture.

I'm not sure the problem has a simple solution like pay raises. I think it's a deeper issue. An issue of respect. Being in government isn't prestigious any more. People don't' respect the office as much. But what came first, the chicken or the egg?

Respect begets respect. It's a cyclical relationship and it has always worked that way. It's a lesson I repeat to my own students when I explain professionalism. If you behave like a professional, people will treat you like a professional. If you behave like a spoiled child that just wants to eat a fancy dinner and play golf, people will treat you that way. We don't have a great national war. We don't have an unstoppable economic depression. The Russians are annoying, but they aren't that scary. The true enemy of our success is apathy. Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country but that sounds like a lot of work, and Game of Thrones is on.

* I singled out Senator Pearce because I'm familiar with his work and happen live in his District. I know he isn't the only good one in all of Jeff City, but he's the one I'm most familiar with.

-Adam Sommer

Monday, March 23, 2015

CRUZ CONTROL: The interrelationship of Dr. Suess, Zombies, and Jurassic Park and the GOP Primary

First of all, HOW CAN WE NOT BE JUMPING UP AND DOWN AND SCREAMING ABOUT THE HYPOCRISY OF THE BIRTHER MOVEMENT! These people spent years, some are still trying, to prove that President Obama is not a U.S. Citizen and therefore not capable of being President. The easiest group to identify these xenophobes with is the Tea Party, which is closely tied to the GOP and the group that made Ted Cruz famous. Ted Cruz, we know for an undisputed fact, was born in Canada. The logically similarities are pretty clear. But as a wise man said, you can't expect them to be fair.

Rhyming Is Fun

Ok, now that we've talked about the elephant in the room we can talk about the elephants in the tent. The tent is the GOP Primary. It's a very delicate metaphor, I know. I'm going to just put this in terms Ted Cruz may be able to understand.

I am the GOP. I am Ted, Ted I am. That Ted I am, that Ted I am! I do not like that Ted I am. Do you like extreme right wing policies and political hams? I do not like your extreme right wing policies you political ham, I do not like them Ted I am!

Would you like them at Iowa's state fair? I would not like them at Iowa's state fair, I would not like them anywhere! I do not like extreme right wing policies and political hams, I do not like them Ted I am!

Would you like them in the house? Would you share them with your spouse? I would not like them in the House, I will not share them with my spouse! I do not like them here or there, I would not like them anywhere!

I do not like your extreme right wing policies you political ham, I do not like them Ted I am!

Would you like them explained on a box? Would you like them explained on Fox?

Not on a box. Not watching on Fox. Not in the House. Not with my spouse. I will not like them here or there, I will not like them anywhere. I do not like your extreme right wing policies you political ham, I do not like them Ted I am!

Would you, could you, in a car? Like them! Like them! Here they are!

I would not, could not, in a car.

You may like them. You will see. You may like them, just vote absentee!

I would not, could not vote absentee. I do not like them on a box. I do want to watch them on Fox. I do not like them in the House, I will not share them with my spouse. I will not like them at the Iowa state fair, I will not like them anywhere. I do not like your extreme right wing policies you political ham, I do not like them Ted I am!

A train! A train! A train! A Train! Could you, would you listen on a train?

Not on a train! I will not vote absentee! Not in a car, Ted! Let me be! I would not listen from the box. I could not, would not, watch on Fox. I will not share them with my spouse. I will not have them in the House. I will not like them here or there, I will not like them anywhere. I do not like your extreme right wing policies you political ham, I do not like them Ted I am!

You get the idea. (Coincidentally, that book is MUCH longer than I remember, so kudos to Cruz on picking it for the filibuster. Solid choice.)

Children's books that are oddly long for their age range aside, Ted Cruz is both great for Democrats and terrible for Republicans. He pulls the whole group to the right. The. Whole. Thing.

Here's something to remember. Hillary will win the woman's vote. Plenty of women may vote for a Republican, but Clinton will clean up in that demographic no mater who the Republicans run. Regardless of the GOP candidate the GOP's path to the Presidency in 2016 is with moderate males and pulling from ethnic voting blocks. (Voter suppression with I.D. laws won't hurt either.)

You're In A Room

Imagine it like a door. The door is in the middle of the room. The more people that try to go through the door at the same time the harder it is, after all it's only so big. (It's an old building, so probably a small door, not ADA compliant.) But, imagine you're the person trying to get through that door. You can see the door, but there's something in the way. What is it?

Shit. Zombies. Just your luck.

What will you do? You could try to kill them, but there are a lot of them. (Like, a REALLY huge number.) Luckily, you do have a really sweet baseball bat in your right hand covered in nails, so you're equipped for the job. But there are a LOT of zombies. You remember from all of the years of zombie shows and movies that sound and light ALWAYS WITHOUT FAIL (100% of the time, seriously) will distract a zombie. After all, they essentially follow T-Rex movement rules. You look to your left hand and you have a flare tied to a pack of fire crackers. It's essentially the perfect zombie distraction machine other than a guy with a mullet driving a van blaring club music. (Walking Dead fans? Eh?)

You let all the zombies mill around the door for a while while you weigh your options when suddenly an amazing selfless hero-person steps up next to you. “I'll distract them, you get through the door!” he says with a crazy, but polite, look in his eyes. He grabs the flare, starts yelling and waiving his arms at the undead savages and turns around long enough to tell you to “RUN FOR IT!” (This part might be in slow mo.) He's like your own personal Jeff Goldblum ala JurassicPark.  Also this one

You take a few steps. You're not sure if he really means to help or if he's just using you as bait for the horde. Then, he lights the flare. As you likely know, the zombies are now totally fixated on him and the flare, they could not care less about you. They are making a b-line (as good as a zombie can at least) for your hero as the fire crackers start to go off.

The door is clear.

But What Does All That Mean?

That's what Cruz is doing for Hillary. He's her Jeff Goldblum. Her personal zombie fodder.

The zombies are the rest of the GOP primary contenders. The door, well that's the Presidential election. (Duh.)

Cruz is either a brilliant Democratic plant, or just doesn't understand how zombies react to light and sound. I'm inclined to go with the latter, mostly because that would be giving the Democrats WAY too much credit here.

He's about to find out though. Eventually, the horde will turn him into another zombie, but by the time they're done the other person will be safely through the door, and they'll just be standing there. Being zombies.

-A. Sommer