The mark of a great baseball hitter is knowing which pitches to swing at and which pitches to let go by. The same is likely true for political commentary. I could comment on the latest round of mass shootings, but I think I would just talk in circles. It’s hard to say the same thing over and over. So, I’ll turn my focus to the local mayoral election that is on the horizon. For those that don’t know, the battle is between Sylvester Turner and Bill King.
Turner is an experienced politician. I realize that carries with it some negative connotations. Some people may not be a huge fan of his and that’s fan. However, Bill King has been running a campaign centered on the fact that he is a businessman and not a politician. This is a gamut that has been used throughout time to garner support. I thought this would be as good a time as any to take a deeper look at this ploy.
Let’s ignore the individuals for a second. After all, King has released a negative ad about how Turner would likely raise property taxes to account for the budget issues the city has been having. Turner has released his own ads calling King a failed business man and an extremist. Let’s assume that King is actually a successful businessman for the purpose of our argument. Let’s assume that Turner has been successful in his endeavors.
The thought of a businessman (or woman) being more successful than a career politician is an interesting one. It doesn’t work in any career or field. God knows that no one wants me performing surgery on anyone or a neurosurgeon coming in to teach my English class. Society has largely been successful because of the concept of specialization. It is one of the core lessons in our history classes. Civilization took a huge step forward when people began to specialize with their individual talents. Funny, but talents like farming, hunting, crafting, and teaching came first. Business and public policy didn’t come until much much later.
However, the whole statement goes to a world view that people have bought into without much thought. Even if we assume a businessman has been successful in his area of business does it necessarily mean that they are somehow qualified to hold public office? The simple reality is that all of us work in areas that require specialized skills and knowledge to navigate on a daily basis. The same is also true in the public sector. A so-called career politician knows how to get things done more than the novice one. Granted, we can argue that the career politician might be jaded and beaten down, but there are mechanisms involved.
The biggest difference is that the principles that might make a business successful might not be successful in the public world. The reason is fairly simple. Profit margin and the goal of profit is a virtue in business. It is repugnant in the public world. They’ve tried in education where they’ve used public money to give to businesses that operate with a profit motive. The end result is an inferior product. That’s nice if you’re buying a toaster, but not so good when you are talking about the well being of children.
The trick is knowing when to use market principles and when to use other principles. Someone without government experience may be tempted to use market principles for everything. History teaches us that this doesn’t always work. A career politician has the experience of not only knowing what works but also knowing what it takes to arrive at that conclusion. A businessman may have the ideas, but they are also used to being able to implement their ideas without interference. Government is a whole other mechanism.
I’ve read Bill King’s columns in the Chronicle. He has had some good ideas and has raised some good questions about different problems our city has. However, there is a huge difference between making sense and asking good questions and actually having experience solving problems in public life. I haven’t necessarily said who to vote for here. The whole purpose here is to simply stop and think: is a businessman really better than a career politician?