Charlie Harper: Vote Them Out? Not So Fast…
Tuesday, April 26th, 2016
A bit over a week ago I was scanning my Facebook timeline and saw a post from one of my friends. In it she urged “… if you want to start sending a message about everything that is not working, don't vote for the folks that have gotten us in this mess. Vote them out!!” She continued to note this was important at every level, even down to our county commission.
I found this noteworthy because she’s not one of my “political friends”, but an actual friend. I’ve known her for a quarter century now, since I went to work for a bank in Marietta as my first job out of college.
Her Mom trained me to be both a teller and a customer service agent. When I was promoted to be a Branch Manager a couple of years later I asked her if she would leave the training department and be my Assistant Manager. I knew I still had a lot to learn. She continued to teach me.
Our assignment was a challenging one made more difficult by both our local management and our Florida based holding company. The guys in charge were tough, and sometimes downright ruthless. Managers played games with employees for what seemed like the sheer sake of it. While technically proficient, many of our management team thought those of us working in the trenches seemed almost incidental to the success of the bank. Then, one day, we got a notice that our Atlanta branches were being divested.
Just before the spinoff we got a typically annoying call from bank operations in Florida that wanted us to re-document something they found in one of their reports. I don’t remember the exchange, all I remember is my assistant manager ending the call by yelling, “You know, we’re not going to miss you people at all!” Then she slammed the phone down.
The merger closed a week or so later, and our branch absorbed two additional branches into our facility. We were only given two new staff members to cover the new volume. Then the real problems started. While our new management was composed of much nicer people, they weren’t very good at the fundamentals. I went from making loans to looking for lost deposits. Our HR department wasn’t able to fill positions. Nothing seemed to be working right.
It took a while for either of us to want to admit it, but we did eventually. The folks we used to work for may have been tough or even mean. But they did know how to run a bank. The new guys did not, and we and all of those that reported to us, as well as our customers, suffered for it.
As fate would have it I was back in that same building where we met and I was trained to be a bank teller last Tuesday. It’s now the Cobb County Commissioners building, and I was there to help question candidates for two State House races and two County Commission races. All four races have an incumbent facing at least one challenger. The differences in answers from the incumbents and their challengers were striking.
The two challengers running against first term Representative Bert Reeves and ten term incumbent Sharon Cooper seemed like they were running against a generic “they”. Neither challenger demonstrated the intellectual curiosity to have learned what either opponent has or has not done on the issues they spoke of.
Reeves’ challenger started by saying he was running because all of our problems are being ignored, specifically citing that our roads are bad, and no one is doing anything about it. Perhaps he missed the bill that provided a roughly 50% increase in state raised transportation revenue passed in 2015, or the follow up ten-year plan to rebuild our existing roads while increasing mobility.
Cooper’s challenger used his closing to say that “they” spent so much time as insiders that “they” didn’t take any time to look at problems real Georgians are facing, citing the heroin epidemic that counts the East Cobb County district as ground zero. Cooper was able to restrain herself as she recounted multiple bills that she not only sponsored but have become law addressing that issue specifically. She’s my Rep, and this debate offered me no reason to exchange experience and results for uninformed anger.
On the commission side, we had one challenger who refused to answer any specifics on questions, instead taking a Trump like “I will find the smart people and ask them” tack to solving local transportation questions, and otherwise stated he wouldn’t be on the losing side of 4-1 votes like the incumbent because “he was tired of losing”. These are answers that insult the intelligence of a voter trying to learn what to expect from someone running for office, and earned a vote from me for his challenger, incumbent Commissioner Bob Ott.
In our Commission Chairman’s race, both challengers wanted to make sure their opposition to the process that brought us the Braves Stadium was noted. One still contends that the financing is illegal, despite the Georgia Supreme Court saying otherwise. I can’t see myself voting for someone that wishes to fight lost battles. The other challenger chose to use a question about moving on from the Braves vote to again complain about the vote. It was frustrating. Advantage here for Tim Lee.
In the end, we are all faced with a stark reality: We may question some of the decisions about our incumbent elected officials. We may not even like some of them. But we should approach every decision about whether we vote to keep them or send them packing with a careful evaluation of the person who would replace them – on their positions and motives.
There are many seeking power this election cycle who understand the electorate is angry, and all they have to do is “don’t be the incumbent”. This puts all citizens in quite the vulnerable spot. Because if we all decide that “we’re not going to miss any of these incumbents at all”, we may just look back in a year or so and realize that things, in fact, can actually get worse.
Charlie Harper is the Executive Director of PolicyBEST, a public policy think tank focused on issues of Business & Economic Development, Education, Science & Medicine, and Transportation. He’s also the publisher of GeorgiaPol.com, a website dedicated to State & Local politics of Georgia.