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As Long as We Remember...

March 27, 2006

Who – or what – influences you?

Chris Cavey

Every newspaper you pick up has ruminations concerning who is trying to influence any given elected official. The influence question extends from President Bush to the local county commissioner.

For starters we all influence our family, friends and neighbors. Some are positive and some are very negative. You might be peddling your influence directly or indirectly. Your opinion of your neighbor who smiles and waves at you each day is much different from the neighbor who has a dog who thinks your lawn is an outhouse.

You value the opinion of family members or friends in different manners, also. You might trust your cousin the accountant to do your taxes each year. Perhaps your next door neighbor, who is a mechanic, changes the oil in your car. Doubtfully you trust the mechanic with the tax work because that’s not his specialty.

Political influences are specialized, too. Both the Maryland General Assembly and your county governments are made up of citizen legislators; folks we elect to govern on a part-time basis, most of whom have real world jobs. This means that they also have real world friends, opinion and job influences, which can provide a wonderful mixture and diversity in our government when balanced.

It is very natural for an attorney who is elected to office to think and to act like an attorney. Certainly a Realtor would have the perspective of a Realtor and a teacher that of a teacher. These people will also have friends and colleagues from within those professions who supported them during their election bids.

Why, then, do we cry about undue influence? The Carroll County Times claims that Sen. Larry Haines is influenced by his business as a real estate professional. Well, I would expect that he is!

How can you be part of any profession for 40 years and not have the thought pattern leaning toward the prospective of your profession. I wouldn’t want him to see issues from the insurance industry angle where he has no professional experience. Most likely I wouldn’t want Senator Haines tuning-up my car either.

Sen. David Brinkley is in the insurance and financial industry. He has a professional perspective from a practitioner of that profession. Sen. John Haifer is a funeral director; Sen. Andrew Harris a doctor; Sen. Lowell Stoltzfus is a farmer. All these people are different with expertise in various professions. This is what makes a citizen government work.

Virtually every piece of political literature touts the everyday profession and professional expertise of that candidate. As citizens we look at a candidate’s successes in life and professional accomplishments as credentials toward elected office. Why, then, do we later allow the media to hold these same accomplishments to the light and claim some type of undue influence?

Few homeless or chronically unemployed people are elected to public office. Do you know a candidate who highlighted having dropped out of school in the sixth grade or promoted the fact that he was a felon? We like personal successes in our candidates and elected officials.

We also contribute to people we see as ourselves…living vicariously through a candidate. Farmers make campaign contributions to farmers running for office, and the insurance agents give to the insurance guy. It just makes sense. People contribute to elected officials with whom they feel comfortable and believe they have something in common.

Where we as a people fall into trouble is when we have an abundance of members of the same profession and our citizen government perspective and influence is out of balance. Perhaps an instance would be too many attorneys elected to govern; or too many attorneys all on the same committee. The balance of different views becomes eschewed.

Most voters realize that everyone is influenced. Do you really think that a spouse, child, parent or sibling has no influence over their family member who is an elected official? Think again. These relationships are the most influential. Remember Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton?

The bottom line is we are electing just ordinary members of our community to positions of responsibility. We have the power to make changes at each election. Voters have more than once “thrown the bums out.” The electorate has a tolerance level and – working within that tolerance – elected officials gain re-election.

A citizen legislature is a good thing. As citizens we can send experts from all fields to govern; then in the next cycle recall and replace them, if we wish. Keep that in mind as November draws nearer.

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