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Local Editorials

Newly elected quitters break faith with voters

Some people compare the relationship between voters and elected officials to that of employers and employees.

To some extent, the analogy is valid.

Political candidates shop their credentials before the voters, as well as their “references” (endorsements) during campaign season.

On Election Day, candidates who receive the most votes are “hired.”

After Election Day, however, the employer-employee relationship can become strained if not outright go awry.

This week’s resignation of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Chicago, is one example.

Jackson has had difficulties with his health and, apparently, with federal prosecutors. He took a medical leave of absence in June, did no legislative work or campaigning since then, and still won re-election handily to represent the 2nd Congressional District.

Fifteen days after his re-election, Jackson announced he was quitting because of his health, although he made mention of the “ongoing federal investigation into my activities.”

Voters in good faith hired Jackson for another term on Nov. 6. They expected that he would spend 2 years’ worth of his time, energy and life serving them. Jackson let them down.

One week before Jackson quit, a state representative from central Illinois threw in the towel, just 8 days after he was re-elected.

State Rep. Jim Watson, R-Jacksonville, won re-election to the new 100th House District. But Watson had a chance to become executive director of the Illinois Petroleum Council, so he decided to leave the House, effective in early December, and return to the private sector.

“An opportunity came about that I could not turn down,” Watson said, but acknowledged that it created an “awkward situation,” according to news reports.

Again, District 100 voters thought they were hiring Watson for a 2-year contract. Watson let them down.

Voters who think of themselves as employers of elected officials may find those “employees” acting unruly in other ways.

Once hired, elected officials can run amok – hiking taxes, approving unpopular laws, and generally making a mess of government. And of course, elected officials like to award themselves hefty perks that the “bosses” would never approve on their own.

When newly hired elected officials quit, such as Jackson and Watson, their “employers” have every right to be disappointed.

The rest of us, unfortunately, will have our turn. Just wait until the lame-duck sessions of Congress and the Legislature get under way.

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