Jim Zachary: Start governing, stop campaigning

It is hard to tell where the governing stops and the campaigning begins.

Women and men are elected to federal, state and local office to represent us and to conduct the public's business, not to campaign.

Whether it is our governor, state senators, representatives, county commissioners or city council members, public servants should not use their elected position or public resources to campaign.

The lines between governing and campaigning are so blurred it's hard to tell the difference.

Public meetings, bill signing press conferences, town halls, newsletters and email blasts — and other “constituent services” — amount to little more than touting legislative accomplishment and are far more about campaigning than serving.

At the local level, it is common for county commissioners and city council members to make comments at the end of a meeting and largely those comments amount to little more than the elected officials talking about all the things they are doing to represent their respective districts — campaigning.

At the state level, when lawmakers are out of the legislative session, instead of meeting with constituents to hear their concerns or answer their questions, lawmakers make appearances to tell the public all the great things they are doing on their behalf.

Again, that’s campaigning, no matter what you call it.

When news reporters call elected officials to interview them about some bill or proposal, more often than not they have to wade through every answer just to find a simple reply in a sea of grandstanding, bragging and campaigning.

The women and men we elect to public office, to represent us and serve us, should simply let their work do the talking.

Voters can make decisions about the quality of public service they are getting from the people they elect.

If you want to campaign for office, hold a virtual rally, publish campaign literature, buy advertisements.

In other words, be transparent and draw clear distinctions between campaigning and your work as a public servant.

When you advertise, or even hold a rally publicized as a campaign event, you are clearly campaigning and we can all accept that for what it is.

When we elect you, we expect you to govern in open and transparent ways, doing the public’s business in public without subterfuge or nefarious intent, and the public has every right and reason to expect you to be just as authentic when you campaign for office without blurring those lines between your duties as a lawmaker and your desire for reelection.

Don't use press conferences to tell us about great things you are doing in office.

Don't use your official newsletter to publish cloaked campaign literature.

Don't use the end of our public meetings to stump for reelection.

Don't campaign on our dime.

CNHI Deputy National Editor Jim Zachary is editor of the Valdosta Daily Times and Tifton Gazette. He is president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.

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