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Thank goodness for career politicians

Kyle Campbell

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The top three polling candidates for the Republican nomination for President – Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina – have more in common with one another than their terrible political views. None of the three has any experience in government, and all of them use that as a selling point. Governors Rick Perry and Scott Walker, with 55 years of political experience between them, have already been forced out of the primary due to low poll numbers. Conservative and liberal distaste for “career politicians,” while understandable at the surface if you don’t give it any thought, is antithetical to reason and dangerous when put into action at the polls.

Alabama was built by career politicians. The bridges you drive on were almost all built by the Works Progress Administration, which Senator Lister Hill secured the funding. The Tennessee Valley Authority, which brought Alabama electricity for the first time on a large scale, survived and grew almost entirely due to the clout of Congressman Bob Jones and Senator John Sparkman. If you’re a student at a public university in Alabama, there is a good chance your school has a Shelby Hall, named for our current senior senator who has served in Congress since 1978. The gorgeous Shelby rotunda and the Federal Building in downtown Tuscaloosa are examples of what it looks like when our politicians serve long enough to gain skill and seniority. What would a government without career politicians look like?

The Alabama Legislature is one example. The Tea Party wave of 2010 turned Goat Hill from being supermajority Democratic to being supermajority Republican. Five years later, our Legislature took three sessions to figure out how to keep our drivers license offices open and prevent poor people from having to pay cash at the hospital, and they couldn’t manage to do it without stealing $80 million from education. 

However, remember that Richard Shelby is a Republican, too. As much as I disagree with the GOP, our legislators’ failures have less to do with party and more to do with the fact that they have absolutely no idea what they’re doing. Less than 25% of legislators in Alabama are lawyers, yet all of them are tasked with making laws. The Alabama Law Institute staffs committees with attorneys, but they can’t be everywhere at once, and there is more business in a legislative day than they have time to handle. So where do legislators turn to for advice on understanding bills?

Lobbyists.

For all of the complaints about the revolving door of lobbying and elected office, often voiced by the same people who call for term limits, there is no better way to ensure that lobbyists will be powerful than by electing inexperienced politicians. We don’t budget enough for our legislators (except for the members of the House and Senate leadership) to have committed staff—often groups of four of them share a secretary—so nearly all of the information they get about legislation comes from the people who are trying to give it to them, which are the people buying them lunch. These are often the same veteran legislators who have been voted out, but now their political skill is representing a company rather than a district. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative lobbying group, brings legislators to conferences and literally tells them what legislation to write and how to vote on every issue, which is a horrendous system of government at the state or campus level.

If you were about to get braces as a child and your orthodontist bragged to your parents that he wasn’t a career orthodontist, they would pull you from the chair immediately. There is no occupation that people without experience are better at, and to think that the hardest job in the world would be an exception to that doesn’t make any sense. When you go to the polls for the primaries in March, the general election next November or state elections in 2018, you are making decisions that will affect your children’s lives. You might want to vote for someone who’s done this before. 

Kyle Campbell is a junior majoring in political science. His 
column runs biweekly.

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Thank goodness for career politicians