Turning over rocks

I came to the decision to run for local office with much reluctance.  (And you should hear my husband on the subject.  I think we can be sure he won't be standing around on podiums gazing at me with admiring support, or pressing the flesh at community gatherings.  I get the impression he doesn't enjoy crowds.)

Nevertheless, having concluded I had to step up and that was that, I have found that there are some compensations.  There's an endless fascination in finding out how things work.  Whether it's getting a chance to look inside a water treatment plant or learning where local government gets its powers and funding and seeing how the roads get paved and the trash gets picked up, the hidden mechanisms all around us are a constant source of joy and learning.  God made me a curious person and a quick study.  It's good to put it to use.

What I'm seeing is that the ramshackle machine that makes the trains run is staffed with equal amounts of people who have no clue and people of amazing competence and good character.  You have to find the latter and minimize the damage from the former.  The trick of politics seems to be to encourage a system that makes both of those tasks easier.

Texas has a funny wrinkle in its criminal prosecution system.  Normally a State District Attorney handles criminal cases for several rural counties, while a County Attorney in each county handles civil matters, including advising the County Commissioners on their contracts and their statutory duties and powers.  The Texas State legislature can, however, grant a county's (inexplicable) request to opt out of the local State DA system and give criminal prosecution powers over to the County Attorney.  From then on, the local DA will stay out of your county and perhaps lose interest in your problems.  If your County Attorney's background is, say, real estate, that may not seem like such a great idea.  If in addition she is given to obscure, intractable quarrels with the local police force and suddenly announces that she will prosecute no further cases referred by that body, things come unwound pretty quickly.  Suddenly we all have to turn to the thorny question, "How does one remove a sitting County Attorney, especially without any cooperation from a Commissioners Court that apparently doesn't see the problem?"  It's become a lively Facebook discussion, which I call a healthy thing.

My campaign is largely summed up in what is supposed to be George Washington's warning about fire being a dangerous tool and a terrible master.  We get a lot of droughts here; people who let their "controlled burns" get out of control come in for a lot of squinty-eyed ill humor.  I tell my prospective voters that, when you're thinking of handing over a new power to your elected officials, it's like setting a fire.  You don't do it until you've cleared a little area around the fire pit and gotten a water hose charged and ready.  Before we elect someone, not only should we find out a lot about his character and abilities, we should get conversant with the procedures for booting him back out of office.  Do we have recall elections?  What about impeachment?  Who has standing to get one of these procedures started?  How hard is it?  Do we have to go to court?  When will he be up for re-election?  How long does it take to get ready to run someone to challenge him?

From Facebook I judge that most people look at a situation like this and think "I'll write to the Governor," or may "to the Attorney General."  No great harm in that, but it discharges a sense of urgency without being very likely to produce results.  I keep coming back to the old lesson that there is not, and never will be, any substitute for people to organize and rule themselves, starting locally.  We can govern ourselves, or we will be governed.  As Benjamin Franklin said,  "A republic, if you can keep it."

It's also occurred to me lately that there's a swath of the Republican party that divides the world into "golf cronies" and "pool boys."  For me that's the GOPe in a nutshell.  What I want to know about a neighbor is:  Does he take responsibility for himself?  Can his neighbors count on him?  I have many neighbors I can count on, and it's not their incomes or their wardrobes that make the difference.


Grim said...

We should all consider taking more part in the administration of this country's government, as it is much in need of repair. Your moves to take responsibility in this manner are a sign of hope.

E Hines said...

The entrenched have much to fear should you be elected.

I hope you are, even as I share your husband's discomfort with crowds.

Eric Hines

Cassandra said...


I'll be interested to learn what you think several months out.

My experience (which is only a few data points, and which says nothing about anyone else's has been the following):

1. All the folks who haven't stepped up truly believe the ones who have are morons without a clue (and the folks who haven't stepped up know better).

2. Position #1 is based on exactly zero actual information/experience.

3. The people in the trenches are a mixed bag (as you've already seen). But at least they're in the trenches :p

4. Once you're really involved, you find out that nothing is simple and there really aren't any easy solutions.

5. That doesn't mean NO solutions - just that the folks who haven't stepped up so far will not understand this, nor will they allow for it. Part of the reason they haven't stepped up is that it's haaaaaard.

6. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Anyway, my hat's off to you (truly) for being one of those willing to wade into the muck.

Grim said...

I mostly think my elected representatives are thieves rather than idiots.

Cassandra said...

Quod erat demonstradum :p

Ymarsakar said...


Since what I am researching tends to overwhelmingly occur in the next 10 years, as it did the last 10 years, that is what I am currently researching.

Compared to that, the Trum admin is riding a utopian vacation time.

At least the watchmen got the warning out as several authors of ancient texts listed.

douglas said...

Well, Congrats? No, really, congrats and best of luck. How does one donate to the cause of sane government in the person of Tex?

Cass, I think you're sort of right, but... (and of course, this from my limited experience with only brushes with people with political power and dealing with bureaucracies)-

1. Yes.

2. Often so.

3. I don't know that we can call civil service 'the trenches' anymore. It pays better, has incredible benefits and ridiculous pensions. It's a stretch to call it public service anymore- what are you sacrificing? Entering politics maybe is in the trenches. It's certainly got enough muck.

4. So, so true. You're dealing with systems set up to be impenetrable and byzantine, and staffed with people who are well trained in guarding their golden goose. It's a herculean effort asked of you, to be sure.

5. Usually true by virtue of NIMBYism or 'but my guy is a good one1' attitudes, where they're considered 'good' because they helped their pet interest out with other people's money- what a sacrifice! Until enough folks can look beyond their personal interest to the greater interest (ironically enough, which in the long run is in their better interest, I think), things are unlikely to change much.

6. Yup, and with the same dirty water.

Grim said...

Quod erat demonstradum :p

Oh, believe me, I don't think I could do a better job than they do -- not at the things they're trying to do. Some of them are exceptionally talented thieves.

Gringo said...

My contribution to community affairs is to serve on the board of my HOA. While there was a lot of rancor in the beginning, the raccor is much less now as we have bit by bit completed improvements and repairs that a previous board had neglected for years and years. HOA members can see that their money is going for something. Instead of blight at the end of the funnel, we now have light at the end of the tunnel.

With another HOA member, I attended a zoning meeting regarding a bar in our neighborhood. The only concern we had was that the bar not play loud music at night. Solution: permit live acoustic music. I was impressed with the zoning board. They responded to audience concerns. They had good command of details of the various zoning issues in the meeting.

I was a little too blunt towards some people at the zoning meeting at the bottom who, living on top of a hill, didn't want a 6-story building built downhill from them as it would diminish their view. I told one of them that an alternate solution would be to install section 8 housing.

E Hines said...

...some people at the zoning meeting at the bottom who, living on top of a hill, didn't want a 6-story building built downhill from them as it would diminish their view.

We had similar problem with a Walmart Superstore that was going to be built in our neighborhood. The hoity-toities objected, as the Walmart would cheapen our neighborhood, and they started raising objections and trying to delay the project as much as they could, even as they conceded they had no legal standing to object--Walmart had done its homework, met all the permitting requirements, and obtained all the permits.

Then a rumor started going around that a biker shop, bar, and brothel would fit in the same footprint, if the Walmart coudn't be built. The objections stopped.

And, in the event, Walmart built a small store and gas station instead; both are doing a booming neighborhood business. And employing a number of older/retired neighborhood folks.

Eric Hines

Grim said...

Let's not downplay the advantages of a good biker bar.

Texan99 said...

I was bemused a year or two ago to find myself voting not only to impose taxes but to issue bonds in my service on the local "Improvement District," which is a state-sanctioned vehicle for a new development funded that way. The financial structure was sort of baked into the cake; I took it to be the deal the home-buyers signed on for. Now, it turns out they didn't entirely understand what they were buying into, but I figure if you buy a million-dollar resort home, you ought either to read the documents or hire a lawyer to read them for you. (This is not my own neighborhood, mind you, I just called asked to serve on the board until the development fills out enough that the developer can back out and homeowners can take over.) It's been a good experience. I can practice doing my statutory duty and paying attention to the concerns of the taxpayers while being strictly truthful and as open as possible with people who aren't paying much attention.

I know for a fact I'm not likely to solve a lot of problems in an impressive way if I get on the Commissioners' Court. For one thing, I won't have a controlling vote. For another, I'm inclined to think a body like that tends to do more harm than good, so my platform is to balk whenever I have balking power and the Court is up to something it ought to stay out of. But that will mean that some people will see me as heartless. I hope others will see me as standing up for them against intrusive government, but we'll see. At the very least, I've got a lot of experience in ferreting out fraud and malfeasance, so it's not likely people will get much of that past me. I've already succeeded in cleaning up some problems at the Improvement District. Sometimes it's as simple as demanding clear explanations until you get them, and refusing to vote "yes" until them. We also relieved some people of their duties and replaced them with people I feel a lot more confidence in. People do learn what they can get away with and what they can't.

Here's my campaign site: https://wendylaubachforcommissioner-pct4.net/