Adam’s Blog

That’s my thing, keepin’ the faith, baby. –Joe Friday

On Paying Your Dues

Posted by Adam Graham on May 28, 2007

In a recent common in which she attempted to dissuade W. Lane Startin from running for Governor of Idaho as a Democrat, Julie Fanselow writes:

As I wrote the other day, public service is about being humble (to some degree, anyway; clearly, most politicians have to have healthy egos or they wouldn’t succeed)…

About two months ago, another young man (a little older than you) with scant political experience approached me about running for governor as a Dem in 2010. I told him the very same thing: Start lower. Pay your dues. Build your credibility. I suspect Wendy J will say something similar to you.

First of all, humility doesn’t mean underselling yourself. If you’re qualified to be an attorney in a law office, it doesn’t show humility to apply to be a legal secretary. There’s nothing un-humble about applying for a job you can do and are qualified for.

Second, pay your dues? The phrase has stuck with me. To whom are the dues being paid? To voters? To party bosses?

This has been something that’s been said or inferred in John Cox’s presidential campaign as well, people have basically been saying, “Pay your dues.” The $100,000 in support to Republican Organizations doesn’t count.

Perhaps the dues paying mentality is part of what’s wrong with politics. The reason we don’t have great presidents or great governors in as high a number as we’d like is that running for these offices is not something you do to fulfill a service, but rather a lifetime career of glad-handing.

I think about some of the Dues Paying Candidates we’ve had-Bob Dole (R-Ks.). The guy was a good man, didn’t have much clue what he really wanted to do as President, couldn’t inspire many people, but boy there was somebody who paid their dues.

Then of course, Rudy Giuliani has “paid his dues.” He served two terms as Mayor of New York, and raised money for tons of Republicans, many of whom have come out to support him.

Mitt Romney has paid his dues, though in lesser amounts. Certainly, Hillary and Bill have paid their dues.

And thus we end up with a professional politician class, members of the club who pay their dues and wait for the chance to advance, rather than being the sort who run to do a good job for the people.

If someone has some good ideas on ways to change our state and make it better that can best be executed for the Governor’s mansion, I say go for it. If you’ve got ideas that have got to be executed for the Presidency, go for it. I don’t care what your experience as a political leader is. America was never intended to be governed by two competing oligarchal clubs. It’s about merit.

And of course, it should also be noted that some people don’t “pay their dues” and seem to get away with it. Examples:

Bill Clinton didn’t get any service in the legislature in, and in 1976 *boom*, he’s Attorney General of the State of Arkansas. The current President Bush had won no political office when he was elected Governor of the third largest state in the nation. The last two Presidents have gotten to skip a bunch of steps on the dues paying ladder, yet somehow the “Pay Your Dues” folks expect everyone else to go ahead and do it. If you think Clinton shouldn’t have been elected because he didn’t pay his dues, what about Bush? If you think Bush shouldn’t have been elected because he didn’t pay his dues, what about Clinton? You can find dozens of people who started at a point rather than the bottom (Al Gore, Dan Quayle, Dick Cheney, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan.)

How about instead of getting people elected to the State Legislature on their road to becoming President or Governor, we just get people elected who want to do the job they’re running for to the best of their ability with no thought of future ambition? I’d much prefer that than having members of the legislature who are worrying about ticking off some special interest they think they’ll need when they run for statewide office down the line.

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10 Responses to “On Paying Your Dues”

  1. Adam, I didn’t mean dues-paying in the sense you appear to be taking it above – glad handing and schmoozing and exchanging cash favors.

    I meant that if Lane would like to be governor, he ought to hold a lower office first so he can learn how the Statehouse works and demonstrate leadership at a lower level, by serving his constituents.

    I guess I’d point to your hero Bill Sali as an example of someone who did this. He served many terms in the state legislature and must have been pleasing his constituents, because he was repeatedly reelected. Mind you, he would not have been elected to Congress without a ton of Club for Growth and national GOP cash, but he wouldn’t have run in the first place without those many years in the legislature.

    On my side of the aisle, I’d make the same case for Barack Obama. He has only been in the US Senate one term, but he preceded that with years of distinguished service in the Illinois Senate.

    There are some of us who still believe that government can do good things and that politics can be a noble profession in itself. I would be suspicious of electing someone to high state or federal office who hadn’t proven in a statehouse or at least a large city council that they can serve ably in the public sector.

  2. Adam, you wrote:

    “The current President Bush had won no political office when he was elected Governor of the third largest state in the nation.”

    Yeah, and that’s worked out really well for us, hasn’t it?

    You forget to mention that in his case -and to be fair, Gore’s as well (to a lesser extent) – he had a family name to boost his fortunes.

    I also believe some folks are well suited to lower state offices without having first held other political posts. As an example, with her extensive business experience, Jackie Groves Twilegar would have made an excellent Idaho state controller, but Idaho voters picked the default “R” candidate and gave us Donna Jones. The latter had legislative experience, but the former was vastly more qualified. That doesn’t mean I would’ve wanted Groves Twilegar to run for governor.

  3. *shrug* Idaho once elected a 32-year-old with a previous election loss and no experience in office to the United States Senate. His name was Frank Church.

  4. Adam Graham [Member] said

    Julie, I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing. I did find this quote kind of interesting. You wrote:

    There are some of us who still believe that government can do good things and that politics can be a noble profession in itself. I would be suspicious of electing someone to high state or federal office who hadn’t proven in a statehouse or at least a large city council that they can serve ably in the public sector.

    This is very odd as you also wrote last year in support of Larry Grant:

    He is not a career politician, but someone with a genuine interest in public service.

    That seems like pretty high office for a neophyte by your standards and yet you backed him to the hilt. I think we all go back and forth on this career politician thing, but I don’t think we ought to say it’s required to have served in office.

    You forget to mention that in his case -and to be fair, Gore’s as well (to a lesser extent) – he had a family name to boost his fortunes.

    My point is that not everybody has to pay their dues. Andrea’s article on “Guilds” raises the point that if you’re in your family, you don’t have to do much.

  5. Lane, that’s a good point about Frank Church. But several factors in his background show that he was worthy of being an exception to the rule. From his brief bio at Wikipedia:

    Church graduated from Boise High School in 1942, where he served as student body president. As a junior in 1941, he won the American Legion National Oratorical Contest. The prize was sufficient to provide for four years at the college of the winner’s choice. Church chose Stanford University, enrolling in 1942.

    In 1943, Church enlisted in the U.S. Army and served as a military intelligence officer in the China-Burma-India theater. Following his discharge in 1946, he returned to Stanford to complete his education, receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1947.
    Also in 1947, he married Bethine Clark, daughter of Chase A. Clark, a former Democratic governor of Idaho, and entered Harvard Law School. After one year at Harvard, Church transferred to Stanford Law School, when he thought the cold Massachusetts winter was the cause of a pain in his lower back. The pain did not go away and the doctors soon diagnosed the problem as cancer. After removing glands in his lower abdomen, he was given only a few months to live. However, he rebounded from the illness after another doctor started X-ray treatments. This second chance led him to later reflect that “life itself is such a chancy proposition that the only way to live is by taking great chances.”

    So he ran for the US Senate earlier than most. I think he had the resume to do it, and the incentive due to his health scare.

    Adam, congrats on your sharp memory. Yes, I did say that about Larry Grant. And I stand by what I wrote this week, too. I believe it can work both ways. Larry Grant would’ve been (and still may be) a much more effective congressman for Idaho than Sali will ever be, mainly because Grant would work for all Idahoans, not just those with whom he agrees.

    But he also would’ve brought a lot of great experience from his Micron years to the job. Let’s face it: Grant’s resume was a **wee** bit more impressive than Sali’s. If a few thousand more Idaho voters could’ve gotten past the “D” by his name, he would be in Washington now.

  6. Adam Graham [Member] said

    Thank God, Larry Grant’s not. So, you don’t think Lane should be governor because he’s too young and not rich, while Larry Grant was experienced older and rich.

    I’m thankful to God everyday we have Congressman Sali.

  7. Money has nothing to do with qualifications nor fitness for office. Stop putting words in my mouth.

  8. Adam Graham [Member] said

    Julie, other than Grant being older and having a boat load of money, I don’t see the difference between Grant and Lane. If there is, enlighten me, I’d love to know.

  9. Well, if it means anything, I was elected president of Idaho Young Democrats (and the seat on the state party executive committee that came with it) at the ripe old age of 20. By the time I was 30, I was a published author, had a congressional campaign under my belt and did campaign work for others in all four continental US time zones. In other words, this ain’t my first rodeo. If memory serves, 2006 was Larry Grant’s first serious foray into politics. Hopefully Grant comes out looking a bit sharper next year.

  10. Adam Graham [Member] said

    Yeah, I’d say that puts you a notch ahead on the paying your dues thing.

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