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Opinion

It’s time to make governing more like car racing, but not in the fun way

They say looking for a new job is a full-time job in itself. Which is frustrating, because although you might spend
40 hours writing resumes, sending them out, networking and pounding the pavement, you don’t get paid for any of that.

It actually costs you money.

Unless you’re running for public office. Then, for some reason, people give you money to help you get a job. It’s entirely possible that, at least for a few years, you might be able make a decent living running for office without actually getting elected.

It doesn’t sound like a bad gig, actually. Go to the parades and county fairs in the summer, shake hands and kiss babies – who doesn’t like babies – and say a few things that your focus group says will get you a big cheer. Video it, put it on Facebook, people share it. When something happens in the world, go on TV and say your piece.

Sounds kind of like a nice ego boost, actually.

Problem is, once you take that money from people to run, if you get elected, you’re expected to listen to them. That wouldn’t be so bad if my neighbors walked over and wanted me to take care of something in city hall, Springfield or Washington. I know them and trust them, and vice versa.

The problem is when some big conglomerate also gave me a ton of cash to look for a job and then knocks on my door. In all likelihood, they gave it to my opponents as well.

If I ever ran for office, the only element of my platform would probably be to make it illegal to charge for coffee refills. (I mean, come on, it’s basically water, and I need my fix.) But if Juan Valdez shows up in my office because Big Coffee believed in me so much they donated to my campaign, how long will my promises last?

Sure, I could refuse the money during the campaign, but I’m looking for a job here. One that comes with the best health care in the world and a pension and, at a base level, all I have to do is show up and vote.

The thing is, most of the people who would have voted for me wouldn’t know how much money the coffee companies gave me. Or the health care industry. Or telecom companies. It’s all public information, available on websites for the Illinois State Board of Elections and Federal Election Commission, but have you ever tried to comb through that information?

It’s a lot, and if it isn’t your job, odds are you don’t want to invest the time to do so. It’s my actual job, and I don’t like doing it.

But there we are, in that dystopian future where I’ve somehow won elected office because I made promises without any knowledge of the economics behind coffee, and no one is really going to check why I never pushed too hard for my plan.

There are two solutions to this, neither of which I imagine would happen, but they should. First, we could just publicly fund elections. Use tax dollars and give each campaign a set amount it can spend. The bigger the office, the bigger the budget. But that’s it. That’s all they are allowed to spend.

I like this idea. J.B. Pritzker was attractive to Illinois Democrats because he has what amounts to a limitless check book for the campaign. Bruce Rauner has just as much money, and has rich friends throwing in, too. This is the richest governor’s race in history and, quite frankly, it’s obscene.

On top of that, if I don’t donate to either side, is the winner going to read my letters?

The other idea is to have a dress code for elected officials. Like NASCAR drivers, we should make them wear suits with the names and logos of their donors on them. The more they give, the larger the logo. I don’t mind if my representative is pushing legislation through about telecom regulations, but if he took $10,000 from Verizon, I want to know that too. While they are speaking.

We’re just limping along now. Big steps towards a more democratic system, and one that stands up for the little guy, aren’t coming anytime soon. But if we come out the other end of these tough times, it’s time to think a little bit about how to bring power back to the people.

Because we work hard and we deserve free refills on coffee.

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