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Published February 25, 2020
Why does anyone run for public office?
By John Toth / The Bulletin
They smiled for the cameras after the luncheon and after making short speeches about why we should vote for them.
I was at the Angleton Chamber of Commerce’s candidates’ forum luncheon recently to listen to the candidates and chat with some of them briefly after the program.
Their presentations were to the point, some delivered nervously, some aggressively, some in great detail, some in more general form. These candidates all had something in common. They decided to put themselves in the public limelight for a chance to serve our community.
That’s not easy. Not everyone can do it, and even fewer can do it well. Public speaking with a specific purpose, hitting all the talking points and boiling down the message to just a few minutes, is hard.
Then comes the second-guessing. Did I speak fluently enough? Did they listen? Should I have made different points? And on to the next event. The candidates get more practice and get better.
But why even do such a thing? The candidates speaking at the luncheon have good jobs. The state representative position doesn’t even pay a living wage -- $600 per month, or $7,200 per year, plus a per diem of $190 for every day the Legislature is in session (also including any special sessions). That adds up to $33,800 a year for a regular session (140 days), with the total pay for a two-year term being $41,000.
The private sector pays more than most of the positions. So, why are they doing it?
I can tell you why I did it in 1998, when I decided to throw my hat into the Brazoria County Judge’s race.
It wasn’t the money. Winning would have actually resulted in a decreased income for me and a more regimented daily schedule.
It wasn’t because of stars in my eyes that I could easily unseat an incumbent. The odds were way against that. But I did try.
It wasn’t that I was itching to get away from the private sector. I had a good business going, and I could always go back to working for a corporation, where there is much less scrutiny than on the campaign trail or in public office.
And it wasn’t because I enjoyed being away from home from morning ‘til night and hammering sign posts into wet, muddy soil.
It was because I thought I could make a difference in the way things should be run. I had the idea that even an election loss would create enough attention that there needed to be changes in the way our county government operated.
Most of it was a lot of fun. I enjoyed the public contact, but I had that anyway, without the campaigning.
It takes a lot of work to campaign door-to-door. I did it. Most people don’t want to be bothered in their homes. Knocking on doors is time-consuming, and the results are questionable at best. But it has to be done as part of a campaign. It was not one of my favorite activities, but after a while, it became routine.
The rumors that circulated about me weren’t a pleasant experience, but that’s politics. I let it roll off and moved on.
Politics is not a clean game on any level. While on our level it is mostly civil, there are a few sticky points that tend to come along during the campaign.
These are some of the reasons why I admire people who run for public office. I feel what they are going through. I have been there and have done it. One day you can be way up, and the next day, way down.
Footnote: I lost the 1998 race, but it was well worth it. Why? That, dear reader, I shall detail in a future column.
(John looks forward to hearing from you on this subject. Send me a note at email@example.com. You can even send an old-fashioned letter to: The Bulletin, P.O. Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516.)