Friday, November 20, 2009

Thoughts on politicians, Piranha and the public interest

We need skilled individuals who will address the public interest first to run for office. Otherwise, the Piranha among us will devour our community

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Note: It's interesting that the opening of deer hunting season is just a month prior to the official opening of candidates filing for public office at the local and state levels. We're expecting that there will be a large herd of incumbents and challengers vying for our hearts and minds for offices ranging from Hays County Clerk to County Judge to State Representative. This commentary from Mr. O'Dell is timely because it gives us pause to once again spend a little time reflecting on lessons learned from elections past, the candidates and their promises. Sometimes its easy to pick out the best deer in a herd, sometimes not. We imagine it would be a lot more challenging selecting the friendliest little public office hopefuls from a school of piranha. Here's wishing a happy campaign hunting (and fishing) season with all its merry sifting, sorting, darting and dodging.

By Charles O'Dell, Ph.D.
RoundUp Contributor

Driving past Austin Memorial Park Cemetery the other day brought to mind a reflection that every one of us is heading in that direction. Such a sobering thought brought into sharp focus the importance of making the most of life’s journey.

While each of us begins as a tabulae rasae (with a blank mind before it receives the impressions gained from experience), we are also hard wired by evolution, just as all other species of Nature are, except that our specie also harbors ego and intellect.

We are not the swiftest, strongest, or oldest specie – but evolved with unique features that give extraordinary capabilities to the most average of us. How we use those capabilities define our life’s journey.

All men and women are created equal in the eyes of our Constitution, but we are not all equal in life.

Each of us has two lives – a life within and an external life, or the way we behave. Our external life manifests our inner life, and that’s why the impressions gained from our experience – the stuff that forges our values –are so important in making the most of life’s journey.

Life can be likened to a card game. DNA deals us the hand to play, but our values determine how we play that hand. Our values are not what we say they are, but are revealed in the external life we choose to live.

What better example of this than elections. More often than not, candidates claim to have values that belie their behavior. They claim to be honest, to have integrity, to be qualified for the position they seek and deserving of public trust. They promise to make us proud.

Few however deliver, because what they want more than serving in public office is the authority and control that makes them feel important in their eyes and in the eyes of their supporters. They squander public money, rewarding their special interest supporters; they use money taken from thousands who struggle day to day, and build grand edifices for themselves, leaving behind long-term debt for others to repay; they spend hundreds of millions of dollars on State and U.S. highways while our county roads continue to deteriorate; and they engage in destructive political games to raise themselves up by pushing their political opponents down.

Which Hays County elected officials do you believe exercise the courage and skill to serve the public interest first and their self-interests last? There are Piranha among us who feed on the citizens of Hays County.

Dry wells, home foreclosures, lost jobs, closed family businesses; helter-skelter growth, government waste, special interests, favoritism, and selected enforcement of our laws are not conditions of a sustainable community or economy. These problems can be solved.

Our neighbors’ problems are our problems – unless we choose not to care. We need skilled individuals who will address the public interest first to run for office. Otherwise, the Piranha among us will devour our community.

As co-founder of Hays Community Action Network (HaysCAN) in 2003, Mr. O’Dell strives to carry out the mission of ensuring open, accessible and accountable government.
He is a long time and close observer of the workings of the Hays County Commissioners Court. He earned a degree in Agricultural Education and a Masters in Ag Economics at Texas Tech, and, later, a Ph.D. at The University of Maryland while employed as a Research Economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington, D.C. Texas born and raised on a family farm, O’Dell is a Hays County Master Naturalist and board president of the Ethical Society of Austin.


Anonymous said...


You are correct that many are discouraged from running for office. The Hays GOP has a real track record of mistreating candidates and otherwise running people off from the Party.

Maybe some Republicans can stand up to the leadership and say "enough".

Anonymous said...

The piranahs have raised their ugly heads once again in Woodcreek North!! Anyone attending the WPOA general membership meeting this past Saturday and reading this will know exactly what I mean!!

Anonymous said...

By the sounds of this article, I am not very encouraged to want to vote for any candidate or incumbent. I don't know them all very well, and I'm long past voting for party label. How will I know who will act in my best interests as a citizen and taxpayer? How will I know which are not piranhas, or for that matter clowns, bandits, thieves and liars?

Anonymous said...

Calling candidates you don’t agree with, piranhas is immature and shows a lack of understanding and respect for our system of electing our government. Some are good, some are bad and a few are really bad or very good. If you like a candidate, vote for him/her and if you don’t like any of them, stay home and I will elect my choice.

Charles O'Dell, Ph.D. said...

Attempts to discourage candidates from challenging party incumbents are not limited to the Hays County Republican Party. It happens in both parties under the guise of party loyalty, a practice that disrespects all voters. To protect incumbents by denying primary voters a choice is nothing less than political tyranny that lowers the quality of our governance.

I have no patience with those who discard basic principles in the service of a political party gone amuck.

Thomas Paine, a founding father warned us about long-term office holders:
“…that the elected might never form to themselves an interest separate from the electors, prudence will point out the propriety of having elections often: because as the elected might by that means return and mix again with the general body of the electors in a few months, their fidelity to the public will be secured by the prudent reflexion (reflection) of not making a rod for themselves.” (Common Sense, February 14, 1776)
One poster asks: “How will I know who will act in my best interests as a citizen and taxpayer? How will I know which are not piranhas, or for that matter clowns, bandits, thieves and liars?”
The most direct approach is to look at campaign contributions. Piranhas swim in schools and birds of a feather flock together. Parents recognize the importance of their children keeping good company and as voters they should apply the same principle to the candidates’ friends. In our local elections, a campaign contribution from a candidate relative living in Houston is not the same as a large contribution from an engineering firm located in Houston. The one expects good governance; the other expects a financial return.

When all is said and done, good governance is achieved by trial and error. Replacing the culture of corruption in Hays County begins with voters who demand ethical behavior by those who are elected.

“Beware of unreliable and undependable public servants who dodge and weave as it suits their political ambitions.” (Anonymous)

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Charles. We are finding, even in our tiny community of Woodcreek North, that good governance can be overshadowed by the corruption and greed of a few. Ethical behavior and loyalty to a common good seem to play second fiddle to "corporate" gain. Neighbors need to look and think outside the proverbial box; remember who the parties really are and who they REALLY REPRESENT when voting for representatives "governing" their community. Transparency is OF THE ESSENCE not the underhanded, behind the back, door-to-door, "dirty politics" so prevalent in Hays County and beyond. This little community has become more cohesive and welcoming to younger families and those who have chosen to retire here. Now, once again, there are those who are choosing to throw that to the wind and bring in an element of deceit and thievery of quality living. We must DEMAND ETHICAL BEHAVIOR of those being brought in to "govern" within Woodcreek North!!!

Don said...

Maybe Charles didn’t mean to use such a regal and powerful fish as his metaphor but I think it is appropriate but not in a way he intended.

Piranhas serve a very useful function in the muddy creeks and streams of the Amazon, they rid it of dead and dying fish that would otherwise continue stink-up and foul the environment. They rarely attack healthy and productive species; they are “Waste Management” of their domain. Wounded or sick fish are the only ones that have to fear them. Piranhas are given credit or blame for all sorts of bad behavior including eating their young. I think we know which species is guilty of that sin, the infamous Rose Eater fish. Piranhas in Woodcreek North might not be a bad thing.