There’s a technique in politics I call the “Soft Landing Straddle” that politicians love because it helps them avoid unpleasant election consequences. This year in Virginia we have an example of the straddle, but first let me explain how it works and the negative effect it has on you.
An ambitious politician wants to move up the political ladder. A mayor wants to become a state senator, a state senator wants to become a congressman, and so forth. Trying to move into a new office for an incumbent is risky because of what economists term “opportunity cost.”
Broadly defined, it’s what one relinquishes when presented with the choice of two options.
In the mayor’s case, when he runs for the state senate he must surrender his spot in city hall. Fine if he wins, a disastrous opportunity cost if he loses. Defeat means the candidate will have to get a real job if he can’t land a spot with an influence–peddling firm.
As you might imagine politicians avoid opportunity cost whenever possible, since the goal is to have their cake, eat it too and leave taxpayers with the check.
This is why the straddle was invented and practitioners belong to both parties. All that’s required is incumbency and a sense of entitlement. The straddle is only possible in states where elections for state offices don’t coincide with elections for federal offices or where local elections don’t coincide with state elections.
The key factor being the election date for the office the politician currently holds doesn’t match up with the office they want. That way if they slip on the ladder of success, there’s a soft landing in the office currently held.
In Virginia my congressman, Rob Wittman (R–Entitled) looked in the mirror one morning and saw a governor starring back. His election for Congress is in November 2016. The Virginia governor’s election is in November 2017.
For a Congressman these races are important because victory means he gets to sleep at home, instead of on the couch in his D.C. office. If he loses, he’s retains the federal office and the couch is still warm.
Wittman didn’t call it a straddle, but that’s what he described to the Washington Post: “It’s a balancing act, and we want to make sure we get the balance right.”
I’ll say it’s delicate. If the electorate wakes up and figures out he’s running for an office he has no real interest in holding, they might decide to let him spend more time with his family next year.
The honorable choice is declining to run for re–election so voters can select a candidate that’s not using Congress as a stepping–stone. That would spare taxpayers the expense of a special election if Wittman wins. Plus it would mean the district has a representative that puts a priority on current constituents and on serving in Congress.
With Wittman voters get a candidate that uses them and the office while his mind is focused first on raising money for the governor’s race, then winning the nomination and finally winning the election in 2017. In between he’ll be getting advice from Marco Rubio on how to finesse the fact he isn’t showing up for work to unhappy voters.
The honorable course is a non–starter for entirely selfish reasons. If Wittman gives up the Congressional seat his money–raising leverage vanishes. He can’t put the squeeze on lobbyists and other political contributors, because he no longer has the implied ability to do favors in Congress. Outside of office, he’s just another wannabe, hence the straddle.
Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii and Texas are the only states that prohibit the soft landing straddle because these states require incumbents to resign before they can run for another office.
If you don’t live in one of those states, then it’s important that you do your part and vote against any straddling candidate. Elections are time–limited loans. The office belongs to you, not the politicians, and it’s your job to remind them when they step out of line or start to straddle the line.
Michael Shannon is a commentator and public relations consultant, and is the author of “A Conservative Christian’s Guidebook for Living in Secular Times.” He can be reached at email@example.com