How I'm Voting

October 17, 2016


Y'all know where I am?

I'll give you a hint: I ran the stairs from the Exorcist 10 times (up and down).

As I start drafting this, I'm in D.C.


It's something I get to do from time to time - not super often... but enough to maintain some perspective on what I do.


Being in DC right now with the 2016 election just under one month away, I thought I might a take a risk and try to weigh in on the presidential race. It should be known that I definitely have an opinion on the presidential election and I know exactly how I'll vote. But, what I can't do is campaign or endorse a candidate under The Hatch Act. As a "regular" speaker with a website, I could probably encourage my readers to vote for any candidate (not that you'd heed my endorsement) but since I'm on the record as being a current federal employee, I need to tread lightly.


I'll first say that I consider myself a moderate in nearly all things. I'm quite progressive on many things in Oklahoma but may come across as conservative in a place like Berkeley. I know a ton of Federal Employees who are voting different ways. Clinton, Trump, Johnson, no Stein's yet that I know of. And, I'm not sure about the rest of the third party candidates. Knowing those people, I trust they are taking the whole of their experience and values into consideration. Luckily, I haven't heard one person say "I'm voting for x because I hate y." Every person has expressed a well thought out reason why they are voting for the person they chose.


The two main contenders offer us an interesting opportunity to really examine what are probably the two least liked candidates in history. Regardless of experience and CV's, both presidential candidates are scoring extremely low in honesty and trustworthiness.  I don't really equate the HONESTY-levels of each candidate but the perception is that they're both equally untrustworthy. It feels like the results of November 8th are going to be determined largely by the level of abhorrence the voters have for the other candidate. Which isn't great for democracy as a whole and it typically results in low voter turnout which has historically been worse for the democrats (that's not an endorsement or a lament - just a fact).


Everybody factors in different things and I think it's wrong to say that one side or another votes against their own best interests. I myself have stated others are voting against their own best interest and I still fight the urge to say it today. I don't know if anyone votes against their best interests. People vote against what others think their primary interests SHOULD be. I certainly have my views and opinions on how other people should vote but that's based upon the things that I place a premium - the things I value. What I mean is this: if I put a high premium on a president that would nominate a conservative supreme court nominee to the detriment of a the candidate's feelings towards diplomacy, I'm not necessarily voting against my best interest. It may appear to you that I'm voting against my best interest because you place a high value on international diplomacy but that's where your value lies. It just seems a bit snarky to declare that someone is voting against their best interest - that's my point.


As a federal employee, I'm looking at what sort of plan the candidates have for government and what their management style is. I don't particularly respond favorably to broad sweeping statements about cutting government. I would prefer the candidate who has a plan to make government smarter: plans to attract and pay talented workers; plans to expand telework correctly and efficiently; and, plans to counteract the potentially huge exodus of retirement-eligible federal workers in 2017. Some federal agencies have different agendas - a lot of folks feel like the most pressing concern facing America is what their organization does.


"The way we take care of Veterans is our nations most pressing concern." - VA Employee

"Protecting our borders is America's most pressing concern." Border Agent.

"Curing a bunch of stuff is America's most pressing concern." Inarticulate doctor from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.


Famously the National Border Patrol Council (a union representing federal border agents) has endorsed Donald Trump while another union representing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has done the same. The AFGE (representing over 302,000 federal employees) has endorsed Clinton. I'm neither smitten nor offended by union endorsements so union endorsements don't resonate with me one way or another. I have no problem with unions philosophically. I believe they have been a force for good in American history as well as a necessary force for frustration. In a competitive market such as ours, I believe that labor unions are merely competing for their best interests.


The US Federal Government employs 2,666,000 civilian employees. There are roughly 1,450,000 uniformed personnel. After accounting for about 63,000 legislative personnel, the United States Federal Government employs roughly 4,180,000 people. These figures don't include the millions of contractors that work for government agencies and in government offices OR the 14 million state and municipal workers that are often funded by federal dollars. For accurate data and to make reasonable determinations about industry and careers, it's probably not the best practice to lump primary school teachers in with police in with construction workers in with Supreme Court justices. When looking at the scale of government work and the ever present need for best practices and better business, it's a reasonable combination to make.  With these sorts of numbers I believe effective management is more important than slashing and burning of agencies.


I do believe that taxes are a good thing because they provide necessary services. I also believe it's the government's role to be good stewards and not "wasteful." I think most people believe the same as me and the debate is largely around how people define "wasteful." When you consider the scale and scope of the government's work (illustrated in the previous paragraph) I want someone who actually presents ideas on making government work smarter and safer. What's the plan for beefing up cyber security? Do you feel customer service plays a role in government work?  How do you feel contracts should be awarded and will you put into place mechanisms for the government to easily back out of a contract if the contractor is underperforming? Do you want so slash all government bureaucracy or just the kind that is needless?I pay attention to messaging and nuance here. I tend to not respond well to hyperbolic chatter - I prefer specifics. Promises without plans are meaningless to me.


I believe in the importance of diversity and encouraging diversity in the federal workforce to include women, minorities, LGBTQ, and hell... anything. While in my MBA program at Baylor (a predominantly white campus), I studied diversity in the context of high performing organizations. The most successful organizations have the most diverse work forces. When people of different backgrounds come together to brainstorm and develop, a sort of frustrating magic happens. People bring all their upbringing and experiences with them to the table and when people see the same problem through different lenses, the paths to a solution are multiplied. One of the wonderful things I've found about working in DC is seeing the number of women in powerful positions (including a high number of black women in GS-14 or higher positions). The different perspectives bring new eyes to a problem. People from different backgrounds see things differently and when they feel empowered to speak up some amazing things happen.


Beyond that, the concept of a rising tide lifting all boats plays into my belief. If we have a more diverse set of employees (especially in higher positions) then they are able to enrich their communities financially and experientially. Also, the children and relatives of our current workforce may see an opportunity and desire to support the government as an employee.


Of course, I also care about how our candidates act towards other people (including each other) but I fear that diving too deep into that would lead to an unavoidable breach of the Hatch Act. Ultimately, my vote will be part Machiavellian and part Weberian:  who will advocate and marshal change in the country through smart, modern, and effective bureaucratic processes? Also, if I am going to cast a vote for a cunning candidate, I would rather cast a vote for the one that can use their cunning for the betterment of society versus their personal gain. I don't see how that approach could be construed as an endorsement for either candidate and that's exactly what I was attempting. Please feel free to comment and share.

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Riley Evan Ross
Speaker and Writer Moderation Blog

I speak and write on the topic of moderation because I believe that a thorough re-examination of moderation can help our societies build change resilience and grow together.

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