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How to Lose Political Credibility in 3 Easy Steps!

Just because you can run for three electoral offices at the same time, that doesn't mean you should!

A few years ago, current mayoral hopeful Bob McQuillan chastised me for encouraging people to get involved and then scolding them when they did. But that’s exactly what a reasonable opinion columnist should do. Ya gotta keep ‘em honest, coming and going.

Call me crazy, but once you make that superlative leap from the couch to a cause, a higher standard automatically applies. Sadly, as a mutual friend of Bob’s and mine likes to say, “When people run for office, they immediately lose 30 to 50 percent of their working brain cells.”

And I’ve seen it happen over and over again.

Don’t believe me? Then please explain the plethora of GOP hopefuls who went down in electoral flames due to their insistence on sharing their unevolved thoughts on rape and the female reproductive system.

Wouldn’t you think that reasonably intelligent people would understand that you really want to avoid that minefield in general, much less wade into it during a general election?

So even though I may occasionally appear to be supporting two mutually exclusive points, I'm really not. The question I'm asking is this: What’s the point of entering the political fray if you’re gonna shoot yourself in the foot before you even make it to the starting line?

Enter Geneva Plan Commission member Jay Moffat, who’s apparent knack for indecision led him to the shotgun method of throwing your hat in the ring. Not only is our over-eager office-seeker running for the District 304 School Board, he’s also giving the Geneva Park District and Library boards his best shot.

Why does that song by the Lovin’ Spoonful suddenly come to mind?

Aside from all the obvious problems with this peculiar political strategy, unlike my not-quite-paradoxical getting-involved perspectives, these three offices may well be mutually exclusive. The fact that these boards do interact should’ve been Mr. Moffat’s first red flag.

Should he prevail in more than one race, depending upon a then-forthcoming state’s attorney’s opinion, he may well have to resign the other(s), necessitating an appointed replacement.

And doesn’t that subvert the entire democratic process?

Not only that, but then there’s the sage biblical caveat excoriating folks for trying to serve two masters. So even if Moffatt legally were allowed to be seated on all three boards, those pesky ethical questions won’t just evaporate into the ether, either.

And if you have to consistently recuse yourself, what’s the point of serving in the first place?

What if the School Board seeks to acquire Park District land? What if the Library Board works with the schools on literacy projects? What if the Park District runs a preschool with District 304? Oh, wait a minute — they do!

Then there’s the issue of credibility, as in you generally need it to get elected. If you do run for office, it doesn’t help matters any if the first question out of a reporters’ mouths is, “What the bleep are you thinking?”

In addition, a big part of the political process is enduring those cynical citizens who will inevitably question your capacity to serve. And it doesn’t bode well when the mere act of opening your mouth automatically means removing all doubt.

And speaking of answering questions, that’s another skill we generally expect from the folks who choose to serve on public boards. Whether it’s the press, the public, or just your peers, elected officials spend a great deal of their time answering questions.

Though there is certainly an artistic angle to successfully navigating that endeavor, candidates who want to get elected probably should err on the side of transparency.

But when the press pressed Mr. Moffatt as to his multiple-office-seeking logic, he rebuffed them. He blatantly told the Chronicle he wouldn’t respond to their inquiries and then simply ignored the Daily Herald.

This is what we in media call getting off on the wrong foot. Because if you can’t handle that simple first question, then how the heck are you going to be able to tackle the tougher ones that tend to come down the road?

I’m sure you’ve noticed just how much fun it can be to serve on a school board.

And let me tell you, politicians who regularly choose to ignore the press may as well put a big red bulls eye on their backs. And that’s exactly the way it should be! It’s one thing for a private person to proffer only silence, but it’s another thing for a potential public servant to do their best clam imitation.

Yes! I do love it when people get involved, but I love it even more when they act like they’ve been there. Although there is something to be said for Mr. Moffat making my April polling place decision that much easier.

Though I never thought I’d be able to say this, given his obvious knack for complete political self-destruction, I’ll be voting for someone other than Mr. Moffat three times.

Lou Pierce January 04, 2013 at 10:03 PM
Jeff, you're a much better writer than I am (I know: how terrible could I really be?), but I could have written this column in 19 words: "Running for three public positions while holding a fourth? Moffat has no clue what he wants. Not voting for him."
Dale Seidel January 04, 2013 at 11:47 PM
Jeff, Mr. Moffat has solved the problem that Jim Oberweis never could. Rather than running for governor, United States senator, United States representative, several times unsuccessfully; just run for them all! Or save Moffet could improve on the practice of Batavia's mayor and run for the multiple offices for life. I'm frankly tired of North Korea being the only place to have a Great Leader and a Dear Leader. Why cna't we have one too?
Jeff Ward January 06, 2013 at 02:23 PM
Lou, Remember, this is about more than Jay. It's part of my continuing effort to educate the public regarding the appropriate way to run for local office. The other thing is, though I could certainly make some of 'em shorter, if I submitted a 19 word column to Rick, he would not be amused! Jeff
Jeff Ward January 06, 2013 at 02:25 PM
Dale, I agree! Especially about Mayor Schielke. Though I think he's generally been a good leader, you're right, no one should have that job for life! I expounded on those very thoughts on my blog http://thefirstward.net/2012/12/16/nine-terms-that-aint-right/ Jeff

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