Saturday, September 11, 2010

Qualifications for Elected Office?

I'm a software developer by profession and I work at a software company. We are currently in the hiring process so I've been involved in interviews. At many software houses, the interviewing process is pretty intense, probably more so now than normal because of the economy. But you don't want to hire an unqualified candidate because its expensive to train someone and there's a significant difference between a really great worker and a dismal one and it's hard to let someone go once they're hired. So, many companies error on the side of not hiring someone whose qualified in order to avoid hiring someone who is not.

But its really not rocket science to pass these interviews. There are some basic, core computer science skills that we look for - knowledge of the language, knowledge of data structures (trees, linked lists, arrays, hash tables), ability to solve algorithm problems. These are all fundamental skills, but we want to make sure the candidate really knows how to program and has a deep enough knowledge of the software profession. Does that mean that every one we hire will be an all star? No, but at least we have some level of confidence that they should make a reasonably strong enough contribution.

So, really as voters in a political election, we are in essence interviewing our elected officials. We are involved in the hiring process. I'm wondering what are those basic skill sets that a politician has to have to be considered minimally qualified for an elected office? If a candidate cannot show proficiency in these skills, they should be summarily dismissed regardless of ideology. Here's my quick list:

1) Public speaking skills - this is why the debates matter. I want to see how an elected official performs under pressure. Can they sell themselves, can they sell the issues they believe in? Do they seem capable and able to work with other people to drive consensus. Maybe for some offices, this matters less than others. Maybe the State Treasurer can be a little weak in this area if they show strengths in budgets, not sure.

But our Governor, Attorney General, legislative positions. They don't have to be Martin Luther King Jr, but they should show competency. Which is why Jan Brewer's performance should be more of an issue than it may turn out to be. Granted, its just one gaffe and she has shown herself reasonably competent elsewhere, but surely this is a concern.

And its why, if you watched the LD17 debates, there are only three candidates running for the house: The two Democrats: Ed Ableser and Ben Arredondo and Steve May on the Republican ticket. The other Republican running was awful, same for the green and libertarian candidates. They were just wasting my time and they took time away from the other candidates. I really wanted to hear more back and forth among the top 3.

2) Command of the Issues - This goes without saying right? You should have a solid grasp of the issues relevant o the office you're running for. This is exactly why Sarah Palin was a sham candidate. And again, this is why debates matter, this is a candidate's chance to show command of the issues. And in the debates, I want good questions and thoughtful answers. I want to see that the candidate has been thinking about these issues for a long time and shows some signs that they have experience grappling with the issues in the real world. This is why I wish every candidate would agree to as many debates as possible, and I wish voters would punish candidates who refuse to do at least a minimum number of them. Politicians should also be punished if they resort to superficial talking points.

The presidential candidates participated in countless numbers in the run-up to the 2008 elections. And having a lot of chance to engage with each other forced presidential candidates into substance. I loved it and I tried to watch every one.

3) Ethics - Despite what libertarians and libertarian leading Republicans may think, politicians matter. These positions are important and a bad politician can do real damage to our state and our nation. We should be choosing from the best each party has to offer. Do we need to know about every mistake a politician has made? No, but we want to know if the candidate has the people as her priority and not the power or prestige of office. People change and I'm willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, but its fair to bring up , but its fair for the voters to be made aware of them. Again, this is why debates matter because it gives the opposing candidate an opportunity to bring up evidence of ethical concerns.

And, yes, Ben Quayle, your public postings on questionable website matter. Voters may choose to overlook these (and in some cases deservedly so), but they are points to consider, and voters need to know about Tom Horne's SEC violations for example. Do they make Tom Horne unelectable? Not necessarily, but its fair to bring up. Also it's also why Bill Clinton's indiscretions were concerning (although the Republicans took the witch hunt way too far).

I think that's about it (off the top of my head). The best case scenario is when both parties nominate qualified competent candidates who know the issues, who are capable of defending them, and we get interesting, deep and substantive debates, to the point where I can say, well, I prefer this candidate because my views are aligned closer to their positions, but either way, Arizona is probably going to be pretty well served.

I'm not sure this happens often enough, and it definitely doesn't seem to be happening in this election.


Lauren said...

Hi there! I'm chair of the D17 Democrats. Please join us at our monthly meeting on Tuesday, September 14th at 6:30 pm (6 pm is newcomer's orientation and mulling about). It's at the Pyle Center (just west of Rural on Southern).

Also, you should check out our other D17 blogger: Randy at

Check out the D17website:: for lots of events.

Interesting blog! Good luck!

tempe turley said...

Lauren, thanks for the note. I was at your meeting a month or two ago. I'm itching to get more involved (I did make some phone calls for Randy Glassman).

Thanks for the tip on the blog, I'll add it to my news feed :-).