SADOW: Let’s Not Get Sucked Into New Jersey’s “Resign To Run” Nonsense

So, New Jersey legislators want to indulge in pique, soothe bruised egos, and half bake concern over state governance by forcing officeholders to resign for office if they declare candidacy for another. While experiencing a similar dynamic in Louisiana with Gov. Bobby Jindal running for president, such a move brings more costs than benefits.

These kinds of laws exist in a handful of states, varying in their scope. A couple are absolute, negating running for anything at any time without resignation. A couple more limit the resignation imperative only up to the last year or so in that office, and still others apply any resignation requirement to only a circumscribed range of offices.

Just looking at the 2015 governor’s race here, depending upon the kind of law, all, some, or none of the current candidates would be able to run. Under the most stringent law, not a single one could have declared a candidacy, or in another couple of instances upon qualifying, unless resigning their current offices. Under more relaxed scenarios, as their terms in other state offices end at the beginning of next year, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and state Rep. John Bel Edwards could have avoided resigning by making a declaration as late as early this year, but in no instance could have Sen. David Vitter or Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle.

Proponents argue that, primarily, this kind of law would keep current occupants’ minds on their present jobs and make sure policy decisions are geared towards these rather than to burnish credentials for a future position. Related to that, the official might use resources of the current office to campaign for a future office, as some allege that Jindal does with the protective state police force that state law requires to join him in his travels out of state.

But a resign-to-run law would not really address any of these concerns. Attention might be divided in the holding of one while coveting another, but politicians also know that voters judge past performance in office as a major factor in vote decisions so they know they have to show enough attention to their current duties lest they appear too detached and/or make bad choices. Thus, they must keep their minds on the job sufficiently and geared to achieving positive outcomes for the jurisdiction in question. And who’s to say how much prior to seeking an office that a politician begins to think he wants to head in that direction – quite possible years in advance and even multiple posts prior, meaning they can take their eye off the ball long before a formal campaign begins. That also means they may use resources of the present office to pursue the one(s) to which they aspire well in advance of any hint they hint they will run for others in the future – assuming that the resource use in question cannot also be committed to aid in performing duties of the current office simultaneously.

These laws also separately carry disadvantages. They would reduce the pool of candidates for lower-level offices, because those with political ambitions would have to time their candidacies to avoid resignation scenarios. Generally speaking, this also would reduce the pool of candidates for higher offices as well, because some in lower-level offices in essence would be disqualified from promotion at the ballot box without resignations they would prefer to avoid. Finally, this would create more chaos in the need to fill more elective offices, for some would resign to run, leaving short-term vacancies that often go unfilled for a time or have temporary replacements appointed without voter input.

All in all, resign-to-run laws do not really solve problems alleged to stem from progressive ambition of officeholders and instead create a separate set of new problems. It would do Louisiana no good to pass such a law.



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