Monday, October 13, 2008

Leaders and Managers

We had a candidate debate last Wednesday evening at the Provo city center, hosted by the Provo-Orem Chamber of Commerce. Gathered at the event were all the legislative candidates in Provo who fielded questions from a moderator and the audience.

During the introductions, Senator Curt Bramble raised the oft-repeated refrain that Utah government is the most efficient government in the nation. The claim is based on a Pew study that ranked government efficiency, and the incumbents are currently touting the ranking as a sign that they are doing a great job and should be reelected.

In responding to Bramble's comment, I couldn't resist referring to talk given by my father-in-law, Hugh Nibley, entitled Leadership and Management. Nibley noted that managers prize efficiency above all else, but it is leaders who break the mold and escape mediocrity. Managers are constantly aware of "promotion, perks, privilege, and power"--"awe and reverence for rank is everything." Leaders, on the other hand, "have a passion for equality . . . set the highest example; and break the mold." Nibley continued, "Leaders are movers and shakers, original, inventive, unpredictable, imaginative, full of surprises that discomfit the enemy in war and the main office in peace. For the managers are safe, conservative, predictable, conforming organization men and team players, dedicated to the establishment."

I noted that the fast food industry is very efficient, but their food is not all that good for you. It's a question of values, I believe. We may have an efficient state government, but our values are out of kilter.

For example a few years ago, our legislature approved $15 million for a new parking garage at the state capitol, but refused funding $2 million to restore emergency dental benefits for Medicaid recipients. Our legislative leaders have refused to provide the $164,000 to provide eyeglasses and eye exams to 60,000 of the state's poorest residents, but managed to find over $35 million to build a soccer stadium. And just recently, in an emergency session to patch the budget after a projected $354 million shortfall, the legislature cuts will leave 19 million people without Medicaid benefits while leaving roads untouched. The legislature has efficiently kept our budget within its limits, but has made some questionable judgments in the process.

Evidently our state legislators now feel it can be even more efficient if we limit the amount of input voters can have in the process. Last year, they passed a flawed voucher law, ignoring constituents' concerns. After a divisive referendum vote, the law was overturned by the public. The will of the citizens got in the way of the legislature's efficiency, so now some legislators are considering changing the referendum law. Senator Bramble stated to the Deseret News that, "If you look at those states where referendums and initiatives are very easy to put on a ballot, you simply can't govern effectively by a pure democracy." The paper sarcastically summed up Senator Bramble's opinion: "government doesn't work best when elected representatives are constantly, and frivolously, overruled by the citizens they are elected to make decisions for."

So I have to hand it to our state legislature. They are very effective managers. They get the job done efficiently, especially when those pesky citizens get out of the way. But when it comes to leadership, they leave a lot to be desired.