The personal and the political
by M. Stewart
Penny Traina’s appointment to the county commission Wednesday was certainly a surprise. Most of those who know Ms. Traina like her, and that includes me, so in the purely personal sense, I offer my congratulations and wish her the best. However, there are other issues that lead me to question the move.
First of all, an appointment to such a high county office is not for political novices, which Ms. Traina certainly is. In 2006 she ran for county auditor against Republican incumbent Nancy Milliken and lost in what was otherwise a sweep year for Democrats. As such, the party may have done better to appoint someone who has previously won the approval of voters and who has at least some political experience.
Traina has no experience in politics, so her appointment to one of the highest political offices in the county must be considered suspicious. We might compare it to a school board appointing a person who has never set foot in a classroom to the position of district superintendent. That the county Dems have decided to put Traina on the fast track is fine, but placing an unelected novice on the commission represents an unnecessary risk not only for the party, but for the entire county.
This leads us to the question of qualifications. Let’s be honest, there are no particular qualifications for any political office beyond the ability to draw a majority vote, but as a political appointee, Traina does not own even that minimal qualification. A few years experience working in the treasurer’s office of a small school district is something, but it’s not enough—especially on the heels of a major taxation snafu in the district.
Both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of cronyism, which is hardly a new thing in politics, but that doesn’t make it right. Given Traina’s lack of political experience, her appointment to the county commission cannot be seen as anything other than pure cronyism. In other words, she has friends in high places. It’s important for all of us to understand that a local political party is little more than a club one joins, and if you’re popular in the club, you earn favor with those who can give you a good job. In that way, politics is no different than most other fraternities. The one meager safeguard we have against cronyism is the ballot box, which did not come into play here.
Does any of this mean that Traina cannot be an effective commissioner? No, of course not. She may do very well, and I genuinely hope she does. More than anything else, the position requires informed, honest leadership. If she can deliver that, fine, but already she’s gotten off on the wrong foot with voters. Traina’s admission that she supports former Commissioner Sean Logan’s sales tax scam is alarming. Under the circumstances, I would think the very last thing she’d want to do is let on that she approved of a political maneuver that undermined the will of the electorate. Sometimes it's best to keep quiet.
As a writer on local politics, I do the best I can to separate the personal and the political, which means that sometimes I am compelled to write negative things about people I know and like. It's a matter of credibility. Here is a situation where I hope this issue is well understood. In that spirit, let me once again offer my most sincere personal congratulations to Commissioner Traina. I hope her experience in Lisbon is both positive and productive.