Is it scandalous to vote against your personal financial self-interest?

Victor Joecks

Government corruption takes many forms, but one of the most obvious is when an elected or unelected official uses his authority to benefit himself, a spouse or a supporter financially.

That’s the reason Rep. Shelley Berkley is in hot water. As The New York Times reported, she used her influence with regulators “to pursue an agenda that is aligned with the business interests of her husband, Dr. Larry Lehrner.” (I’m not commenting here on whether or not Berkley did anything unethical or wrong here. I’m just noting that the appearance of acting in the financial interests of her spouse, and hence her own financial interests, raises questions.)

Now, imagine Berkley had acted in the opposite manner. Say she had supported shutting down the kidney transplant program, even though it would hurt her husband’s business. This would be a non-story, because she had done something not in her financial self-interest.

That’s why I don’t understand Patrick Coolican’s column Friday in the Las Vegas Sun. In it, he attacks Nevada state Sen. Michael Roberson for supporting putting more money in classrooms, while his wife has a CCSD job “outside” the classroom. If Roberson is successful in mandating that 65 percent of school funding be classroom funding, his wife’s position may be eliminated.

First, this is actually the kind of behavior we should be encouraging in our elected officials. Supporting a policy because it’s best for students and taxpayers, even if it might have a negative impact on your personal situation, is a very good thing. If there were a columnist or two out there who kept wondering where Nevada’s leaders are, this might have ended the search.

Second, Coolican’s column is really an attempt to claim Roberson is acting in a hypocritical manner.

State Sen. Michael Roberson is a rising star in the Republican Party.

He caught the attention of conservatives during his first legislative session this year with tough rhetoric attacking teachers unions and a Clark County School District he said was bloated with personnel who aren’t in the classroom. In fact, he offered legislation that would have mandated 65 percent of education money go to classrooms.

As it happens, the School District received a report recently from Gibson Consulting Group recommending $162 million in efficiency savings over five years, money that could be put toward classroom instruction. One of the cost-saving measures that would reap $1.8 million per year would eliminate the position of “theme coordinator” and “recruiting counselor” at the district’s magnet schools.

That’s the job title of Liberty Leavitt Roberson, Roberson’s wife, who works at Advanced Technologies Academy.


Now, Roberson isn’t the first one to have this kind of attack thrown at him. One of the Left’s primary criticisms of the Tea Party’s call for entitlement reform is that members of the Tea Party are drawing checks from Social Security and are using Medicare.

Think about this for a second. Liberals have mandated that all citizens pay taxes into the public school system and Social Security and Medicare. Mandated. If you try to avoid paying those taxes, you’ll go to jail.

But when fiscal conservatives point out problems in those systems, some liberals shout “hypocrisy,” because those conservative individuals are participating in a mandated system.

What garbage.

It’s not hypocritical or “awkward” to work for changes in a mandated system you’re employed in or living under – especially if those changes would actually impact your personal bottom line negatively – because the government mandates those systems.

Third, Coolican then tries to claim that Roberson misidentified the number of CCSD members making over $100,000. Roberson said it was 350.

There aren’t 350 education bureaucrats making six figures. There were 299 in 2009 and 285 in 2010. (But hey, if his accuracy were a batting average, he’d be the best hitter ever.)

After checking on TransparentNevada, I found out that there were actually 346 CCSD employees who made over $100,000 in 2010. When I e-mailed Coolican to ask about this discrepancy, he said that he only asked CCSD about administrators, because Roberson’s exact quote was “350 education bureaucrats.”

Since one definition of “bureaucrat” is anyone in a bureaucracy, that’s pretty thin hair splitting to try to justify a snarky shot.

Voting for policies that benefit you financially and directly (like legislators who are government employees voting to raise taxes to increase government pay) should raise a red flag for voters.

However, voting for policies that might hurt you financially doesn’t raise any of those red flags.