Texas limits two groups of people from running for public office: felons and the mentally incapacitated. In 2017, the state considered making an interesting addition to that list when a bill arose that would prevent lobbyists from being able to run for public office.
At first glance, it may seem excessive to group lobbyists with felons and people with mental handicaps, but the measure had great intentions and some precedent.
The precedent here comes from major concern with the “revolving door” of politics at state and federal levels. The revolving door is when legislators move into lobbying or similar state-related positions after retiring from office. Critics of this practice cite major concerns surrounding government accountability and trust in government.
Those at the end of their time in office who are eyeing a lobbying role are more likely to be influenced by the company or interests that the will shortly advocate for, leaving the public at a serious disadvantage. Once in these lucrative, private sector positions, former lawmakers have inside connections and relationships with those they will now stand in front of, on behalf of special interests.
Federal actions to prevent the revolving door have not been successful, and neither have similar measures in Delaware. When state senate leader Patty Blevins (D—Elsmere) lost her re-election in 2016, her new position with the Division of Public Health seemed to be in violation of state rules against revolving door type activities, included in the ethics portion of the Delaware Code.
So, when a lobbyist decides to run for office, these concerns remain. This process is known as the “reverse revolving door,” and is still a breach of trust in government and weakens government accountability.
A South Dakota lobbyist-turned-Congressman came under fire for adding language in a bill that helped his former employer. The same can be expected at the state level, and may be easier to prevent.
Delaware can either be more susceptible to this problem, or can do better to prevent it. In a state where everyone knows everyone, interests are bound to get tied up, but we do not have to blatantly allow for special interests to enter the legislative process and pass bills in favor of their friends or former employers. Delaware does however have the framework in a forgotten set of ethics guidelines that could be applied to and enforced with the reverse revolving door.
We already struggle with transparency and accountability in this state. We must do better.
Delaware should move to end the revolving door of politics and be an example to the nation. Until then, the people should consider the implications of electing former lobbyists to office and the impact this will have on the future of lawmaking in the First State.