Should Elected Officials Resign before Campaigning for another Office

Should an individual elected to a political office be required to resign from that office when seeking another elected office before their term expires? 

The concept can be condensed into the phrase “resign to run.”

The Background:

Someone asked me about Members of Congress who decide to run for President of the United States.  Another individual asked specifically about US Senator David Vitter of Louisiana who most believe will run in the election for governor of the Bayou State. Is it possible for an individual to fulfill the obligations of their current office while campaigning for another?  My response was no, but no with a number of reservations.  The primary reservation being a suspicion that a cure for the divided attention may in fact be worse than the split focus reality.

Historically one of the more prominent examples of resign to run occurred about 20 years ago.

In 1996 United States Senator and Majority Leader Bob Dole resigned from his position to campaign for the office of President against the incumbent Bill Clinton. Dole had served 35 years in Congress with 27 of those years in the upper Chamber.  He remarked:

I stand “before you without office or authority, a private citizen, a Kansan, an American, just a man.”

“You do not lay claim to the office you hold, it lays claim to you, your obligation is to bring to it the gifts you can of labor and honesty and then to depart with grace. And my time to leave this office has come, and I will seek the presidency with nothing to fall back on but the judgment of the people, and nowhere to go but the White House or home.”

Obviously Senator Dole had won the GOP nomination before his resignation and remained a Senator during the GOP primaries.  Many felt that he had little chance in the election against Clinton without some game changing event, so some argue that Dole’s announcement was nothing but a campaign gambit. Regardless, the resignation did not influence the Presidential election as Dole lost to Bill Clinton, 379 to 159, and Dole received approximately 40 percent of the popular votes cast.

In the Presidential election of 2008,

we saw the opposite among practically all the major candidates seeking the nomination from either the Democrat or Republican parties. We had Members of the House such as Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich. We had US Senators such as Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and the two individuals who would win their party’s nomination, John McCain and Barack Obama. One common element amongst these individual was that all had a substantial number of missed votes in their respective Chambers. Missing Floor votes, however, is not unique for individuals on the campaign trail whether it is for reelection or for another office. Being common, however, does not make it right.

Is there a simple solution?

Unfortunately no there is not a simple one-size-fits-all fix.  My data may be out of date, and this is an opinion piece and this is not an academic paper, but I think about 5 states which have a form of a resign to run requirement.

These states are Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, and Texas (Title 38, Article 6, Section 296 of the Arizona Revised Statutes; Title IX, Chapter 99, Section 99.012 of the Florida Statutes; Article II, Section II, Paragraph IV of the Georgia Constitution; Article II, Section 7 of the Hawaii Constitution; and Article 16, Section 65 of the Texas Constitution).

Some municipalities such as Philadelphia, Dallas, and Phoenix have or had their own resign to run laws.  Each law, whether state level or local differs in scope.

It’s easy to make a Constitutional argument against the legality of the Federal government imposing a resign to run law on the states, but what if the proposition took the form of an Amendment to the Constitution? 

I doubt that such an amendment would be ratified.  First, you would need some burning desire for change in the individual states which is unlikely.  Would 75 percent of the states give up their control over their elections?  Would 66.7 percent of the US Senate and House of Representatives vote in favor of restricting their personal political opportunities?

Whether seeking another office or not, some officials are not performing their duties anyway. The solution there remains the ballot box, and depending on location and office applications of recall.  Government resources such as staff are unfortunately used for non-government activities already, and in terms of campaigning we will not see much difference in allocations between reelection campaigns and seeking a new office.

Here our solution is to demand accountability. As for granting favors to selected constituents and individuals, what would be different?  We’ve sadly crossed the line where some constituents do not recognize the legitimacy of an elected representative from another party, and some elected officials merely placate their bases of support. We could solve that problem easily just by returning to the concept of We the People instead of creating scapegoats to blame when things are not to our liking.

Some argue that these scapegoats are in fact real, but my question remains the same.  If privilege does not exist, why do we become frustrated and outraged when someone previously unrecognized gets to play by the same rules that we have used for ourselves?  I did not earn my parents.  I did not earn all that my parents and grandparents took the time to teach me.  No I simply benefitted because of their efforts, and I am so grateful that I feel obligated to give time, energy, and effort trying to help others move forward more easily.

While resign to run sounds reasonable and practical, I believe that it opens the door to an even worse brand of politicking.

A local doing excellent work as a representative of their community might not seek a higher office where they could also do excellent work for a greater number of people.  Statistically resign to run reduces the possibility of the best candidates seeking office.  Instead of lower level offices being stepping stones, some might seek out appointments which allow them to build a base and receive name recognition.  That happens already, but the power of the ballot box would dwindle even more.  Forcing a candidate to resign also means that specific individuals are left without any representation until the replacement is in place.  What financial costs are added in selecting that replacement?

I think we already have better ways to solve the problems we face.  We need more people voting, and people need to be informed about what is actually on the ballot.  Before someone starts chomping about “voter fraud” these Voter ID laws do not address the problems of election integrity.

We need to teach real history and science in our schools, and we need to accept that what some today like to label as pseudo-science or revisionist history is in fact real.  Speaking of my field, history has examples of greatness, valor, and honor, but we also have examples of despicable acts and events.  Sometimes the difference is only based upon the side of the river you happened to be on at the time, and as history professors we do need to provide the multiple perspectives and interpretations and not the sanitized or one-sided slants.

We the People need to hold are representatives accountable for Floor votes. We need to be aware of what happens in committee. Personally I have started deducted points from my score cards for politicians who always seem to vote party line on anything that might be controversial to some.

Seriously, I think we need to change the perception of elected offices. 

Being a representative of your constituents is a full time job, but being a politician should not be a full time job and compensated as such.  In what type of economics does it make sense to spend millions to make a salary that will not amount to even 25 percent of the money spent?  Could it be that salary isn’t the real compensation but the connections and economic activities afterwards are?  How about a significant “cooling off” period between the time a previously elected Member of Congress can work in nongovernmental capacity influencing policy or seeking government contracts?  How about the same for elected officials at the state level?

No a “cooling off” period is not as simple as it might appear and details would need a lot of ironing out, but I feel that would be more effective than resign to run if we would hold those individuals responsible for the jobs to which we elected them while seeking any other office or position.

Part time salaries, partial benefits, and a philosophy of nonprofessional politicians along with restraints on the lobby industry would make the voices of We the People more audible.