There are leaders and there are politicians, and it is rare that both qualities are embodied in the same person. I make this assertion as someone who found that they were good at being one but not the other.
It’s almost exactly one year ago that I was faced with a choice of saving my job or continuing to serve as a city councilman. It was not a choice really, out of necessity I resigned from the council as I could not afford to be out of work. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I have struggled with that decision every day since my resignation. The positive result of this is that I’ve had plenty of time to think about how that situation could have been avoided, and the difference between leaders and politicians.
Politics had never been a goal of mine, I saw it only as a way to extend my commitment to community volunteerism. I had never even been particularly political, avoiding confrontational partisan conversations most of my life. My mother though had always encouraged me to “stand up for the underdog,” and in 2018 I was seeing a lot of bullying both nationally and locally, so I reluctantly applied as a candidate.
I have been a leader of people throughout my adult life: as a small business owner, sales manager, president of professional, social, sports and conservation organizations, outdoor educator and wildlife guide. In all of those roles people depended on me for sound judgment and creative problem solving, in some cases even putting their safety in my hands. These experiences proved to me that I was a capable leader, but they did not make me a good politician.
So what would make for a good ‘local’ political leader? Here’s my list of ideal qualities for a city or county candidate:
1. Non-political. Although it sounds counter-intuitive, I maintain that highly political people can make the worst leaders. Leadership means making the best decision, which isn’t always the partisan decision. Good leadership often means compromise. Highly political people seem to want to lead by force from the front or by fear of their constituents from the rear. A good leader finds that fine-line of listening to all sides to inform their decisions and leads from the middle.
2. One-term only. Political office should not be a long-term career, it should be a short-term service. The moment an aspiring multi-term politician is installed in their new role, every vote they cast is a pitch for re-election, which taints their decision making process. One-term leaders can make difficult decisions and negotiate bipartisan compromises without fear of alienating voters. This can mean making the most-correct decision for the situation, even when that decision may not align with a party position.
3. Financial independence. The new paradigm of social media sabotage, combined with the acrimonious relationship between right and left, means that anyone who is not financially independent is vulnerable to harassment of their employer or source of livelihood. Representatives who own small businesses are at risk of vandalism, slander or boycott, representatives who are employees of small businesses are in danger of having the same done to their employers. Financial independence removes those weapons from those who would use them. One option to overcome this would be to make the role a paid position, as is done with County Supervisors, the other is to only elect those whose income cannot be adversely affected: Students, the retired and the wealthy, all of which would skew the candidate pool.
As past School Board Trustee and City Councilor I have “done-my-time” in politics and “paid-my-dues” to my community, now I’m happy to get back to leading.
Scott Huber is a former city councilor and school board trustee.