Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Disqualifying Candidates Based on Occupation

I believe our nation's founding fathers designed Congress to be made up of citizens from varied professions and occupations. This concept was applied to the legislatures of the several states including Oklahoma. Legislators naturally tend to gravitate to the area of policy to which they are familiar and I enjoy watching the contributions made from those with expertise in a given subject matter. This varied representation proves a great benefit to the taxpayer.

I try to keep all campaign material from each race in which I personally participate. This allows me to review the subject matter in my materials to ensure I am staying true to the platform on which I campaigned.

It is interesting to review the opponents' material as well. Over the years, I was invariably on the receiving end of one of those a comparison pieces contrasting my occupation with the other candidate. You have probably seen these types of mailers where one candidate places his best photo against a grainy or even altered photo of his opponent and lists off all of the factors which make him a better candidate. When describing my occupation opposition material would either list me as a security officer, or actually the more pejorative "night security guard", corrections officer, or perhaps the pejorative "prison guard".

Those materials never told the reader of my experience owning a private security agency. They certainly didn't disclose the important role corrections officers play in the public safety venue. They simply sought to disqualify a candidate based on a generic occupational description.

The longer I serve the more I am starting to realize how my personal occupational history has continued to shape what I do.

Owning a security agency highlighted the plight of the small business owner who must deal with government regulation on a day to day basis. I am strongly motivated to author and advance modernization processes to make government much less burdensome on the small businessman. I still cringe whenever I see an antiquated government paperwork-based application process. We have worked hard to eliminate these and I hope to have additional good new to report about this in the near future.

Perhaps no position better prepared me for holding elected office then working as a corrections officer (CO). As a CO I was assigned to guard a unit housing 120 offenders. As you might imagine, the odds are always against the CO who must learn to work with the offenders while also maintaining a firm line. Prison management understandably fears COs will become co-opted. After all they are co-located on their own with the offenders for hours on end. Certain offenders have little else to do then figure out and deploy complex physiological processes to co-opt the CO with whom they have much more access than prison management.

Oftentimes the co-option starts with the offender becoming friends of the CO and asking for very small and mostly meaningless favors such a giving the offender a prohibited item or other policy violation. Over time the scope of these requests grow. When the CO pushes back or refuses the offender may blackmail him by threatening to disclose his past violations of policy. Backed into a corner the CO becomes a tool of the 120 offenders he must work with each shift. COs are taught that the primary way to survive in this environment is to take a firm and consistent stand and never cross that line.

I think this training was pivotal in directing me to establish a similar line prior to taking office as a legislator. I determined to never accept gifts or political contributions from lobbyists. Too many elected officials go into office without setting a similar line. The special interests immediately befriend the just elected official before he has time to figure out the system. Over time the official risks becoming co-opted by the process and the special interests. Even if they see the light they are too far in and can not back out easily. These elected officials risk becoming little more than tools of the special interests. I think the taxpayers would greatly benefit if each new elected official had taken CO training.

In this case, I don't think it was a bad thing for the voters to elect a "prison guard".

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