For state government, it’s time to end “citizen surgery”

Surgeons make good livings. They drive nice cars and live in nice houses. As an American, I believe anyone should be able to become a surgeon.

But just because anyone should be able to become a surgeon, I don’t think everyone should actually be allowed to perform surgery without the proper education and experience.

I feel the same way about people who aspire to elected office.

We are knee-deep right now in a populist era of American politics where “we the people” are in utter revolt against “the elite” or “the establishment.” The notion that the average Joe would be better at governing than a long-serving elected official has become gospel.

But it’s wrong.

Gov. Paul LePage

Just as I wouldn’t want to get operated on by a “citizen surgeon,” I don’t want the complicated process of governing done by people with no experience or education either. I would prefer not to have an arrogant reality show billionaire in charge of nuclear weapons and international diplomacy, for instance. And I would also prefer someone with a background in Maine government in charge of our state, rather than the former head of a chain of salvage stores.

We demand more credentials and more talent from our doctors, our lawyers, our stock brokers, and our sports figures than we do from the people who are charged with literally running our country and protecting us from foreign invaders, natural disasters, and nuclear holocaust.

This is completely irrational.

Imagine a “citizen pitcher” being allowed into the Red Sox rotation. Not a trained professional but a regular Joe who was so inspired by a segment on sports talk radio that he decided to become a baseball activist and get involved.

This is exactly what’s starting to happen to our government, especially at the state level.

While good-intentioned, many members of the Maine Legislature and other state government officials have no more business making decisions about healthcare, energy policy, or economic development than I do performing a triple bypass.

State Sen. Eric Brakey, for instance, is the Republican Senate chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. Brakey presides over a committee that makes billion-dollar recommendations that impact every single resident of the state of Maine, yet he has zero background in healthcare whatsoever. Brakey’s resume seems to consist solely of an interesting semi-clothed acting career and a position as an agitator for the Ron Paul campaign.

Similarly, Ryan Tipping, the Democratic Chair of the Taxation Committee, with oversight of our entire tax structure, has no background at all in taxes or finance — he was a hardware store employee and “community organizer.”

So while our healthcare and welfare systems are a mess, and our tax burden continues to weigh down our state, we really have no business complaining. We put these folks in charge.

We also allowed Mary Mayhew — a lobbyist — to become commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services. It’s not a stretch to believe Mayhew would be a better starting left wing for the Bruins than she was at managing a multi-billion dollar social services agency. Her resume shows her to be equally unqualified for both positions.

This is no way to run a state.

We need to start demanding more from our government officials, and that starts with creating an environment where qualified people actually want to fill these roles.

Much of this has to do with who we elect as governor. Gov. Paul LePage has complained about his own inability to attract talent since he first took office, and it’s understandable — how many competent professionals would want to associate themselves with this guy? Expert professionals within the health care, education, energy, and business communities would be more willing to join the cause to improve our state if they had faith in the governor.

Similarly, we need to treat the legislative process with the gravity and respect it deserves. Lawmaking is a job that requires a specific skillset — it’s not a hobby. We need to remove the structural barriers that impede both the aggregation of institutional knowledge and the participation of more competent people. By eliminating term limits, reducing the overall number of legislative seats, increasing the salaries of legislators, and expanding the legislative staff, we could turn this part-time amateur legislature into a professional operation far more equipped to deal with the complexities of governance.

As the recent government shutdown showed clearly, the way we’re doing things now doesn’t work. We’ve got to start respecting the importance of state government and expecting more from our elected officials.

We don’t go to the hardware store to get our taxes done.

We don’t go to the community theater to get our gall bladders removed.

It’s time to apply the same common-sense standard to the people we put into power.

Lance Dutson

About Lance Dutson

Lance Dutson, a principal of Red Hill Strategies, is a Republican communications consultant. He has served on the campaign teams of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Kelly Ayotte, as well as the Maine Republican Party.