Over the years, we’ve interviewed dozens, if not hundreds, of elected officials and candidates for office.
Very rarely do any of us come away from these encounters thinking, Wow! What an exceptional human being! How fortunate we are to have this person representing our interests.
Maybe it’s because we pay them so little — in North Carolina, even the speaker of the state House and president of the Senate pull in just $38,151 apiece, with another $17K or so in thrown in for expenses. Regular members of the legislature make about $14,000 a year in salary. That’s not even teacher-assistant money.
Makes you wonder how some of these guys can afford all those nice suits.
The only one who’s up in the six figures is the governor, who will make about $142,000 this year — which still pales in comparison to his paycheck as a Duke Energy executive.
On the surface, it seems just: Those involved in the affairs of the state shouldn’t be getting rich off of it. But apply a little real-world math to the situation and a different reality emerges.
Working in the state legislature pretty much requires a second source of income, usually covered by a law practice, a farm or business or sweetheart position in some big company — or, in some cases, a personal fortune.
That’s problematic because from the outset of the process, only people who can afford to take the job are able to run for most statewide offices, rendering ineligible most of the people who live here.
And even those who hold down jobs cannot be very effective at them while the legislature is in session, which is more than half of the year.
It’s a plight similar to that of the big-time NCAA student-athlete, who must at least keep up the pretense of going to class and taking exams while still managing to excel on the field or the court, all the while without financial compensation.
And we all know how well that works out.
One possible solution is to pay our state legislators a living wage, but ironically, the phrase itself is anathema to the party in power right now. One might think they’d be more sympathetic to the working poor, since they know firsthand how little their meager governmental salaries can buy.
But most of them — on both sides of the aisle — can afford not to think about it.