In recent years, it has become fashionable for venture capitalists, big shot attorneys and corporate executives to run for public office after having conquered the business world. Consider it a midlife crisis of sorts. For most people, buying a Corvette or going to an Eagles reunion concert and maybe even smoking a joint or two will suffice. But what if you’re worth a cool half billion? Then it’s off to Washington or the nearest available Governors office. So here’s a helpful hint to would-be candidates for public office emerging from world of stocks and bonds, leather couches and initialized cufflinks: before asking us to vote for you, try actually voting yourself.
Take Boston Celtics co-owner and former venture capitalist Steve Pagliuca, current candidate for the United States Senate in the race to replace Senator Edward Kennedy. Actually, take him to the polls please, because he doesn’t seem to be able to get there on his own. Not exactly a profile in courage, Pagliuca, who is worth an estimated $400 million, recently discovered a deep and long standing commitment to public service at age 54. Among other attributes, his website touts his “civic leadership.” Apparently that does not include leading by example, because The Boston Globe reports that Pagliuca’s dedication to civic engagement has been a tad shaky at times.
During a five-year period at the end of the 1990s, he voted only once and, since 1995, has not cast a ballot in any of four presidential primaries or a combined nine local elections in Weston, where he resides, or in Newton, his home until 2000,” the Globe reports.
Somehow, ammassing a fortune large enough to own most of a major sports franchise is an acheivable feat, but getting to the polls between 7AM and 8PM seems to be too mighty a challenge for this dedicated public servant.
Out in California, another civic hero named Meg Whitman, former CEO of Ebay and candidate for Governor has also demonstrated a rather spotty interest in voting. I have to give Whitman credit for one thing: she has an incredible commitment to consistency. The Associated Press reports that Whitman, 52, failed to vote in every single election for 28 consecutive years. It gets worse. Somehow Whitman was unable to muster up the energy to even register to vote until she was 46.
Whitman says she was focused on her career, “Raising a family…and we moved many, many times.” (For the record, in 10 years of eligible voting, I have at virtually every moment held at least one full time job, and for 4 of those years was a full time student at the same time. I have also moved 13 times. In that time period, I have cast a ballot 15 times, and door to door the entire process has never taken more than 25 minutes.)
Former T-Mobile executive Joe Mallahan has a track record as a successful businessman, but if you live in Seattle, he’s asking you do something he has rarely done himself: vote for Mayor. Mallahan is seeking the top municipal job in the city, but The Seattle Times reports that he has skipped more than half of the elections since 2001, including two mayoral primaries.
Ronald Reagan once said that some people run for office to do something, and some people run to be something. Pagliuca, Whitman, Mallahan et al could hardly make it clearer which category they fall into. If you really care about making a difference in peoples lives, start by blocking out half an hour or so in your day once or twice a year to actually show up and vote. Because when you’re completely full of shit about your commitment to public service, people can usually tell. After all, there’s a reason the Presidency came down to Barack Obama and John McCain, not John Edwards and Mitt Romney.