Want Change and Reform? Personnel is Policy

From the archives…

Let’s get something straight at the outset — none of this is personal. As in professional sports, nice guys can win and nice guys can lose. What I address here isn’t whether someone is a good person or a bad person, but rather whether they succeed or fail in the very important public jobs they hold.

The following quote is attributed to Niccolò Mchiavelli, but whether he said it or not it fits nicely to the current political state of affairs here in Illinois:

Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.

The inability of Republican political and party leadership to adjust to the changing circumstances is a running theme of modern times. While the think tanks and issue research organizations continue to document in great detail the best policy path to follow, most Republican elected officials at every level of government are failing to do their part. This is nothing new.

It was the view of many that former Senate President James “Pate” Philip, who led the Illinois Senate for a decade (1993-2003), had one of the best teams on the field at the time. Lee Daniels, the man who led the state house Republicans during that same time only won a majority once in five tries despite a Republican-drawn map.

Unfortunately both men either didn’t realize what was happening around them or didn’t know what to do about it. Pate may have done some good things and stopped some terrible bills, but both men left the GOP weaker than when they found it. They were not the only ones.

I’ve joked that there are two types of people in the world — those who divide people into two categories and those who don’t. In this case, seriously, there seems to be at least six kinds of Republican elected officials occupying seats in state legislatures and in the U.S. Congress:

  • Those who are doing what they can but can’t get the necessary support of their colleagues.
  • Those who would like to do something to advance real Republican principles but don’t know what to do.
  • Those who mistakenly think they’re doing what they need to.
  • Those who aren’t up to the task.
  • Those who don’t agree with and thus want to change the principles of the Republican Party.
  • Those who are lazy and biding time until retirement.
  • Those who are corrupted by perks, privileges, or profits. (One example of profits: It’s a well known fact that a lawyer serving in the General Assembly gets a lot of law business as a result of their “public” service.)

A 7th category has been suggested — “those who think the battle is lost and it’s all hopeless.” Maybe. The question is begged — what are these people doing in office if they don’t think anything can be done?

We need a troop surge here in Illinois. The reason is simple: the current players aren’t getting the job done and must be replaced. Again, it’s nothing personal.

In his best selling book Good to Great, author Jim Collins writes that he expected the first step to success in building a successful enterprise was going to be setting —

…a new direction, a new vision and strategy for the company, and then to get people committed and aligned behind that new direction.

We found something quite the opposite.

The executives who ignited the transformation from good to great did not first figure out where to drive the bus and then get the people to take it there. No, they first got the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out where to drive it.

Those who primarily want to feel good about their participation in politics don’t want to face the music when it comes to the people on the “bus.” They hope against hope that the force of their personality can inspire the incompetent and their smiling face can reform those who have been corrupted.

As with any business, sports, or other enterprise that fails consistently, it’s an unpleasant fact that you probably have a people problem. Good judgment tells us that the same old cast of characters who have held responsible positions in places where the power exists (as mentioned above) will have to be replaced. Good judgment must over-ride the desire for good feelings.

The sooner it’s done, the sooner the IL GOP will be able to attract high quality candidates and committed volunteers into its ranks.

Up next: Public opinion and political organization.

First published in September 2008.

Image credit: erickontheradio.com.