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We have political consultants — and we need citizen consultants

There are many roles to play in the multibillion dollar industry we call American elections. 

Chuck Slocum

Dating to the early 1800s, it was the emergence of two major political parties that defined the partisan electioneering that fueled our democratic elections. 

There are at least three key appendages to a political party: 1) a group of people, mostly volunteers, who work hard to organize in the trenches; in Minnesota built around some 4,000 precincts; 2) selected people who are actively seeking elected office and their campaign teams; and 3) a very large group of people who identify with and vote for a parties’ candidates on election day.

Over the last decades, a fourth and far more powerful force has been the emergence of the full-time professional political consultant who coaches the party and individual candidate on how to win elections.

Political consultants

Thousands of professionals of all political stripes are now a part of this group in America, recruiting candidates, raising money and creating various kinds of media in support of such efforts. Some serve major candidates from foreign countries as clients and many political consultants are compensated annually in the millions of dollars. 

The most prominent of these consultants are managers of various campaign war chests that legally solicit money from any and all sources, in virtually any amount, on a year round basis. Often donors are not identified. These contributions are largely used to strategically back both public and insider efforts aimed at building negative perceptions of an opposing office seeker.   

Clearly, many political consultants have learned how to win elections with money and tactics. Democrats and Republicans each have a skilled cadre of professionals devoted to creating such drive-the-negatives-up campaigns though TV-radio ads and increasingly more sophisticated social media efforts targeted at specific voters. In recent years, Democrats have raised more money for such purposes than Republicans.  

Small wonder, then, that somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of voters say they disapprove of candidates and the government institutions in which they serve, though a higher percentage do support their own individual representatives.  

Partisanship does have its place in America’s political system; earnestly held and often differing principles regarding our governments’ roadmap are important to honor and respect in the tradition of our nation’s founders. Finding common ground must be the goal.

As those who self-identify as Republicans (33 percent) and Democrats (28 percent) have declined in recent years, the two parties still command on Election Day a total of nine of 10 voters.  

Voter turnout in Minnesota ranges between 50 percent (nonpresidential elections) and 75 percent, far higher than the national average.

Interestingly, 40 percent of Americans describe their views as conservative, 35 percent as moderate, and only 21 percent as liberal.

Citizen consultants

What Americans of conservative, moderate and liberal stripes could use now is an army of “citizen consultants” with a quite a different agenda — that being a focus on recruiting excellent candidates who wage the campaigns but also understand that the crucial responsibility of elected officials in office is to be working together on the important things like long-term progress on a world class education, equality, job creation, a growing economy, balanced budgets, immigration, public safety and clean air and water.

Americans and Minnesotans do want and deserve a better job from their leaders.

For their role, the executive branches and majority parties in Minnesota and Washington D.C. — Republican and Democrat — must respect the minority party and one another enough to put our state and nation’s interests far ahead of the more narrow and volatile wedge partisanship that leads to voter discontentment and the crippling of the political system.

Minnesotans and Americans deserve as the guiding principle for citizen consultants creation of “an effective, lean and clean government from bottom to top.”

Chuck Slocum is president of The Williston Group, a management consulting firm; he is a former state chair of Minnesota Republicans and was once executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership. E-mail Chuck@WillistonGroup.Com).


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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/22/2014 - 08:30 am.

    Citizen consultants

    I don’t think there should be a requirement that consultants must be citizens. Lott of aliens have valuable things to say too. And let’s recall that while aliens can’t vote, they are counted for purposes of establishing legislative districts. They also pay taxes, have many of the same rights of citizens, and if we had one, would be eligible for the draft.

  2. Submitted by Arvonne Fraser on 11/22/2014 - 01:09 pm.

    politics and consultants

    Chuck Slocum has done an excellent job here. His ideas are worth thinking about harder, especially for DFLers who don’t seem to know how to run legislative candidates in non-urban districts. “Normal” (these days) political consultants and the DFL have forgotten large geographical spaces with fewer people or don’t know them well. They tend to be urban oriented. We need to think about Slocum’s idea of citizen consultants who know districts and the people in them and figure out new ways to both find good candidates and help in their campaigns.

  3. Submitted by Arvonne Fraser on 11/22/2014 - 01:13 pm.

    non-urban politics and the DFL

    Slocum’s excellent article shows how politics is bipartisan. A former Republican chair has good ideas to improve our political campaigns. Especially needed in non-urban areas are people who understand that “normal” (that is today’s) political consultants are urban and too often TV-oriented. My DFL party needs to relook at legislative races in non-urban areas and to understand the politics and people in rural areas. Campaigns need to be different there and citizen consultants are a good idea.

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