Last night I posted an update to social media more or less decrying the utter toolishness of both candidates for governor in my beloved home state of Maryland and putting myself forward as just the right third party candidate. It’s a happy fiction for a number of reasons. Not the least of those is the simple fact that as a employee of the United States I am legally barred from running for partisan office on any level – local, state, or federal. It’s just one of the many fun and interesting rules that apply to me under what’s commonly called the Hatch Act which is backed up by the full might and authority of the US Office of Special Counsel. They are not to be trifled with.
The short version of what could be a long and painful story is that the Hatch Act, among other things, seeks to ensure career civil servants are officially above the political fray and not drug kicking and screaming back to the bad old days of the spoils system, where good party men were put into positions of authority throughout the working levels of government without much consideration given to their actual knowledge, skills, and abilities. The sentiment is spot on. Having a cadre of people who are not beholden to any particular party for advancement is an unquestionably good idea. The political appointees at echelons higher than reality stand as a great reminder of the caliber you may end up with when decisions are based purely on party affiliation.
The problem of course is that Hatch essentially prevents the small segment of the population who know the problems inherent with the system best from running for office and doing something about it. It’s really elegant in its own way. Hatch effectively keeps the people who know first hand the problems created by politicians from entering the arena in an effort to unseat those same politicians. I’d like to say that’s purely coincidental, but my core cynicism simply won’t allow it.
Sure, I can participate in the process. I can vote, I can canvas, I can put a giant sign on my lawn, but as long as I want to keep getting a check from my currently employer, I can’t even touch the idea of running for office. It’s a pity really. Federal employees get a black eye in most discussions. Some of it is deserved, but in my experience they’re a pretty average group of people. Some are pure oxygen thieves, most are somewhere in the middle of the bell curve, and a few are truly world class minds. It’s a real shame that some of those deep thinkers are barred from getting into positions where they could do more than rearrange deck chairs.