Get Involved With Government?

Bill McCollum, Florida’s current attorney general and candidate for governor, recently announced his support for legislation to eliminate teacher tenure and design a pay system for teachers that rewards them for their students’ performance.  One of the criticisms McCollum has had on this proposal is that it is an idea promoted by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.  In this, and in other policies, critics are complaining that Jeb Bush is still pulling the strings in Tallahassee (the state’s capitol).  Despite the fact that he’s been out of office for nearly four years, and isn’t running for office now, Florida Republicans are still Jeb Bush’s puppets.

I don’t have anything to say about whether this accusation is true, nor about McCollum’s teacher tenure proposal.  What gets me about this accusation, though, is that elected officials are all the time saying citizens need to get involved with their governments.  They need to attend commission meetings, they need to be informed voters, they need to let government officials know their views.  Yet when someone like Jeb Bush does that — someone people will actually listen to — he’s criticized for it.

I am somewhat informed on what my governments are doing, and I have, on a few occasions, actually gone to city commission meetings, asked to be on the agenda, and expressed what’s on my mind.  My experience has been that the commission gives me three minutes to speak, strictly timed, and even during my three minutes acts completely disinterested in what I have to say.  My impression is that they are thinking, “This guy is wasting three minutes of my life, and when he and others like him finish talking, we’ll just go ahead and do what we were going to do anyway, public opinion be damned.”

Public officials “want” you to be involved in the policy-making process… as long as your involvement has absolutely no influence on the outcome.  But if you’re somebody who might actually have some influence, like Jeb Bush does in Florida, you’ll be criticized because your involvement might actually make a difference.

Government officials want to make it appear that they are listening to their constituents, but there is a difference between allowing someone the opportunity to speak, and listening to that person.  If the speaker is someone people will actually listen to, government officials will tolerate the speaker only when that speaker supports their agendas.

Randall G. Holcombe is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University. His Independent books include Housing America: Building Out of a Crisis (edited with Benjamin Powell); and Writing Off Ideas: Taxation, Foundations, and Philanthropy in America .
Full Biography and Recent Publications
Beacon Posts by Randall Holcombe | Full Biography and Publications
  • Catalyst