There are 3 types of players in state politics

There are 3 types of players in state politics
by Tim Donaldson

If you can understand what motivates another person, you can predict how they will behave, and that is very valuable intelligence to have. In over eight years of working with many legislators, boards, administrators, committees, lobbyists, and other players in Utah politics, I have built a paradigm of the basic types that I think covers all of the players. People can move between these roles, but people are usually just one at a given time.

The Technocrat

“…in the trough of human feces eternally are the flatterers…” –Dante’s Inferno

This type of person tends to be a paid bureaucrat who first and foremost doesn’t want to lose their job. So they aim for quiet competence. They keep their head down, do the work, define their responsibilities as narrowly as they can, and maybe secretly track where the bodies are buried in case they ever need a get out of jail free card.

There are 3 types of players in state politicsTechnocrats are extremely rare among the advocacy groups, as only the evil ones seem to have them. A technocrat manages by avoiding problems.  They make sure not to make themselves understood when they speak.

Any involvement a technocrat has in actual policy-making is aimed only at making their boss look good. They don’t persuade, they do PR. They spin, and spin is never open to discussion. In many cases, they passionately get involved in elections on behalf of their personal conflicts, ie, working to help their boss get re-elected. As a relevant aside, the only people who seem to care, over a year before the governor’s reelection, who is challenging Governor Herbert in 2016 are those whose family income is at the will of the governor.

How Technocrats See Themselves: Lisa Simpson

How Others See Technocrats: Wayland Smithers

There are 3 types of players in state politicsThe Barbaric Yawper

“I celebrate myself. I sound my barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world.” –Walt Whitman

These are the crusaders. They are the good guys, and they can afford to be–they are often independently wealthy. They have some level of personal need to be a part of a crusade, and so they will find one if they don’t have one. They are going to rebel with or without a cause. Given the latent martyr complex, they don’t really mind if they never persuade anyone. The aesthetics of putting the sword into their own stomach with great pathos is enough, as long as a crowd will weep. These types are relatively rare as state employees, abundant as citizen lobbyists, and they usually are on the side of the angels. They entertain, keeping the Salt Lake Tribune worth reading. Everyone painfully sitting bored in hearings wants more from them.

How Barbaric Yelpers See Themselves: Joan of Arc

How Others See Barbaric Yelpers: The Unabomber- including the rambling late night crazy memos

There are 3 types of players in state politics
FILE – In this Oct. 10, 2010 file photo, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s son Kim Jong Un attends a massive military parade marking the 65th anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korean state media said Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012 that the Supreme People’s Assembly will gather Sept. 25 in the capital, Pyongyang. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)
The Cold Blooded Mob Boss

“If it feels good, don’t say it, and don’t write it.” –How to Be an Adult at Work

“We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” –Joseph Smith from Liberty Jail, D&C 121:39

Cold blooded mob bosses quietly accumulate power. While everyone else over-shares, they probably aren’t on Facebook, and if they are, they haven’t uploaded a profile picture yet. They probably quietly maintain files, J. Edgar Hoover-like, on everyone stupid enough to over-share.

Flattery and sycophancy are necessary for the ambitious, so every technocrat dreams of someday becoming a cold-blooded mob boss. But there are limits to power, and you always have to persuade people. Once cold-blooded mob bosses get power, they don’t try to persuade anyone, and inevitably shipwreck on the fact that no one has all that much power.

How Cold Blooded Mob Bosses See Themselves: George Washington

How Others See Cold Blooded Mob Bosses: Kim Jong-un

The Solution: We need more Persuaders

In boring conclusion, persuasion is the only path to meaningful and lasting change within Utah state politics. Yet, none of the three types above engages in it, and we tend to elect those who preach most bombastically to the choir. The elected politicians, then, are prone to doing empty and stupid things—though they at least tend to wise up the minute money gets involved.

The way to succeed in Utah politics with too much trying is to pursue reasonable policies and spend a lot of time getting input, feedback, and collaboration. Let’s do lunch; you pay.


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