Wanted: Seasonal employees for winter months and occasional work the rest of the year. Preference given to those with other full-time jobs, though applicants will be expected to put their other job responsibilities aside for weeks at a time. Extensive travel may be required. Thick skin and public-speaking skills a plus. Fundraising experience a major plus. Pay: $17,000 a year, plus expenses.
Despite the down economy, that job description drew relatively few applicants: just 410 for 236 positions, compared to almost 20,000 people who recently put in for the 877 new jobs at an Alabama auto plant.
Making Hyundais, it appears, is more appealing work than making laws in Georgia.
The Republican and Democratic parties in May held qualifying for this year’s local, state and federal elections. As usual, the number of candidates for the job of state representative or senator is underwhelming.
As in 2010, about three in five incumbent state legislators are running completely unopposed, with no challenger in the July primary or November’s general election (barring third-party entrants or write-in candidates). And that actually represents more competition than in 2006 and 2008.
Worse, just six incumbent senators out of 54, and eight of 156 seeking re-election to the House, are opposed in both the primary and general elections.
Open seats aren’t much more competitive, with 18 of 26 in the House and one of two in the Senate being contested by just one of the major parties.
Redistricting brought new maps for this year’s legislative seats, and there’s no denying the Republican-leaning seats got redder and the Democrat-leaning seats bluer. But I think that’s only part of the story.
Bottom line, being a state legislator is a pretty crummy deal. Don’t believe me? Take another look at the job description at the top of this column. Sure, I could have polished it to make it sound more appealing, but I didn’t exaggerate the downside. I didn’t have to.
If you live and work in, say, Ocilla, you’re looking at driving 180 miles to Atlanta on Monday morning, spending the week away from your family and your regular job, then driving back home for the weekend. And then repeating that weekly, for the better part of January through March, and often much of April.
And then coming back to Atlanta every now and then for committee meetings through the summer and fall.
And, of course, having to run for re-election every two years, which means spending a lot of your free time raising money.
Back when most of the state was agrarian, a farmer could afford to spend much of the winter away from home and serving the public. (Legislative sessions also tended not to last as long back then.) Nowadays, few people are farmers, and most jobs don’t give one the luxury of taking off two and three and four months at a time.
One of the suggestions I’ve gotten while writing about ethics reform during the past several months is that we just need to elect more ethical people. If you believe that, you have to recognize the dearth of people willing to do the job at all.
Ethics reform aside, more electoral competition would be a good thing. Changing ballot-access laws to allow more third-party entrants is one possibility. Paying legislators more — though not, in my view, making the job full-time — has to be on the table. I’d even consider holding mini-sessions of the Legislature throughout the year rather than one solid block of time in the winter, or having legislators meet biennially.
But if we want more competitive elections, we need to make the job itself more attractive.
– By Kyle Wingfield