The headline in today’s Seattle Times pretty much sums up Dave Reichert’s entire campaign strategy this election: “In Reichert-Burner rematch, questions still loom about Burner’s public-service experience.”
All in all, I suppose it’s a pretty even-handed piece (though it is past time for local journalists to reevaluate the Reichert as “moderate” meme that Daniel has so consistently and thoroughly debunked), but I just flat out reject the premise that Darcy Burner’s lack of “public-service experience” should be treated as a substantial issue in this campaign.
In a nation whose founding fathers envisioned a citizen legislature, prior public service has never been a prerequisite for higher office, and is certainly no predictor of success therein. In fact, we have a long honored mythology — particularly in the GOP — surrounding successful businessmen who leave the private sector and enter politics to “give something back,” the most recent local example being the failed US Senate campaign of former Safeco CEO Mike McGavick. McGavick was certainly a flawed candidate, but never once did I hear my friends in the legacy media question his lack of “public-service experience.” It simply wasn’t a credible issue.
Burner also achieved success in the private sector before embracing public service, and while she’s no multimillionaire, she honed managerial skills at Microsoft we could surely use more of in Congress, skills she clearly demonstrated in developing and promoting the Responsible Plan. By comparison, Reichert is a career public employee, a beat cop cum paper-pusher who was plucked out of obscurity and appointed Sheriff in what was arguably one of the worst decisions of Ron Sims’ own long career in public service, and who had absolutely zero legislative experience himself, prior to entering Congress. I don’t mean to disrespect police officers, fire fighters, paramedics and other first line responders who put their lives on the line for us every day, but their job experience leaves them no more or less qualified to serve in Congress than most any other profession.
But I take larger issue with this line of attack in that campaigns tend to focus on the job experience of the incumbent, not the challenger, and for obvious reasons. It is fair to question Burner on the issues or on her competency or on her character, but few challengers can ever claim to match the on-the-job political experience of the incumbent, and to legitimize such a direct, unfavorable comparison would amount to little more than a blind defense of incumbency. Reichert, on the other hand, has a two-term record in Congress to defend, a legacy of accomplishments, or lack thereof, that is a legitimate issue of debate. Thus the main question before voters is whether Reichert has adequately performed in office, and if not, whether Burner has the competency and values to warrant an opportunity to serve in his stead. That is the standard by which the media usually covers campaigns because you cannot fault the challenger for lacking experience in the job she seeks.
When consummate Beltway insider Robert Novak says that Reichert “has not distinguished himself during three years in Congress,” you can be sure that he is echoing the opinion of Reichert’s own Republican colleagues. Thus it is not Burner’s experience that is the primary issue in this race — she has apparently excelled at nearly everything she has attempted to achieve in life — but rather the actual experience of Reichert in the job he seeks to retain.