Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Evaluating Elected Officials

John Micek, the Morning Call’s blogger at Capitol Ideas asked what made a good legislator. He posted his thoughts. Alex at PAWater Cooler. Bernie at Lehigh Valley Ramblings, and Duke at the PennypackPost also contributed to the project (see links to their posts at Capitol Ideas).

Previously I’ve written on suggested ways to evaluate candidates (and then later applied those criteria to a congressional candidate and a state senate candidate). But once someone is elected, how do you decide if they’re doing a good job?

One way is to see if they follow through on their promises. That’s kind of common sense, but sometimes circumstances, and priorities change. It is important to gauge the feasibility of campaign promises. Many people judge an elected official on how many bills he or she introduces, sponsors, and/or gets passed. I’ve always thought this was an odd thing to look at. Officials in the minority party often have trouble getting their bills through, or even into, committee. Plus, if someone else is willing to do the heavy lifting, just co-sponsoring good legislation might be enough.

Constituent service matters a great deal. So does trying to improve the economic and natural environment back home. Listening to the immediate needs of the voters is necessary, but looking at the long-term picture for the district and the state or country (as the case may be) and balancing the two is a delicate dance.

Most of all, I think it is important to examine the behavior of the official. People who want to find loopholes will always find them. People who hire staff and talk with colleagues who are honest are likely to avoid problems before they occur. The need to continually raise money means that officials need to spend a significant proportion of their time with wealthy donors, but does the official also take the time to hold town hall meetings or forums? How many opportunities do you have to contribute your thoughts and opinions, beyond the ever popular written letter? As someone who keeps an eye out for such opportunities, any official I can’t see in person at least once a year is, in my book, expendable.

In summation, I evaluate my elected officials by how realistic their campaign promises are, how effective they are at keeping them, what legislation they are affiliated with, constituent service, and most importantly, the content of their character, and how available they and their staff are to voters, and whether they sometimes look beyond the boundaries of their district for the long-term great good.

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