Honolulu Advertiser

SECOND OPINION  by Cliff Slater

August 16, 2004

Only the experienced need run 

A bill will be introduced at this next Hawaii State Legislative session that would mandate new qualifications for those running for state or county offices. Basically, it would require that to be qualified to run for public office, candidates must have at least three years experience working in each of the public and private sectors.

This bill deserves a lively debate not only in the legislature but also at the dinner table because the idea does have merit even if somewhat controversial.

For example, it is hopeless discussing the values of bureaucracy with someone who has never worked in the public sector. Similarly, one can rarely achieve a constructive dialogue about privatization with people who have only ever worked in the public sector; they usually have little idea how competitive business operates. This is especially true of those who have attended government schools, then government universities, and then gone into a government job, such as public school teaching.

By private sector employment, the bill defines that as full-time in businesses that operated in a highly competitive environment. In short, working for the phone company or the electric company, or Matson will not qualify.

The bill defines public sector employment as full-time in local, state, or federal government — including military.

Here are the benefits:

The essence of experience in the competitive private sector is an understanding that income for the enterprise, and thus ultimately one’s own compensation, has been exchanged freely and voluntarily for the enterprise’s products and services and thus you, as an employee, are fully aware of where your pay is really coming from and — more importantly — what will keep it coming.

It is also gaining the understanding that virtually all companies treat their customers and employees honestly, not because the owners are necessarily nice and decent folks, but because it pays to do so.

The essence of experience in the public non-competitive sector is an understanding of the value of bureaucratic thinking, and the protections we enjoy because bureaucrats are ensuring that every “i” is dotted and every “t” crossed.

It is also useful to experience that personal incomes derive from negotiation and rationalization rather than competition.

The merits of this bill are that legislative discussion is likely to be far less vitriolic than what presently prevails. Secondly, the legislation that issues from each session would be more sensible since each of the legislators would have experience of both the public and private sectors.

Under these conditions it is highly unlikely that the bottle cap bill, the gas cap bill and sundry tax credit legislation would ever have seen the light of day.

On the other hand, management competency would be far more highly valued and thus, the traditional public worker complaints about their managers would get far more attention than they ever have.

This is legislation that is bound to cause significant discussion in the upcoming session.

Cliff Slater is a regular columnist whose footnoted columns are at: www.lava.net/cslater

Footnotes: Spoofs are not footnoted.