Monday, August 29, 2016

Book Review: Patterns of Recruitment

Welcome back to school, Gentle Readers...

Title: Patterns of Recruitment (A State Chooses Its Lawmakers)

Author: Lester G. Seligman et al.

Date: 1974

Publisher: Rand McNally

ISBN: none

Length: 264 pages plus 5-page index

Quote: “The way political aspirants maneuver for position and prominence, the ingenious tactics and propaganda…are peculiarly endemic to the recruitment process. The electoral laws governing recruitment tell us little about the interactions among candidates, their sponsors, opponents and the electorate. This book concerns the interaction patterns in the recruitment of state legislators in Oregon.”

Or, what kind of people seek positions in the state legislature, and why? (This book was written by graduate students and their professor, for the college library market; a somewhat awkward and verbose literary voice is expected. If people who are neither C.S. Lewis nor Rachel Carson write like them, the thinking seems to go, what they write isn’t academic enough.)

To some extent the authors found what they expected to find. State legislators needed to be fairly affluent, and the median family income for candidates was more than twice the median for Oregon residents generally, but above the level from which campaigning was possible, higher incomes did not reliably predict greater success either in campaigning or in the legislature. Candidates didn’t have to be male, and there had been some interest in adding more females to the legislature, but the balance of the state legislature remained almost entirely male. Candidates didn’t absolutely have to enjoy campaigning, or do it especially well, and in some cases it may even help if they don’t have much interest in larger political issues (since the issues with which they deal will be mostly narrow, local ones anyway).  

Candidates for office are, in theory, taking risks…but candidates for state and local office may, the authors found, regard the financial risk of campaigning as a strategic investment. If the majority party in an electoral district have a qualified incumbent candidate, the minority party’s “challenger” is extremely unlikely to win. Why do people even campaign in this type of situation? Advertisement, the authors found. The social mores of the period frowned on self-advertisement by the “professional” class much more than we do now. A lawyer couldn’t expect positive results from advertising in a newspaper or on a local radio broadcast, but could increase name recognition, and subsequently increase business, by running as a doomed “challenger” candidate…and in Oregon, in the 1966 election, several election losers admitted that that was why they campaigned for office. An insurance agent the authors identified as “one self-promoter” said, “I don’t have a snowball’s chance of beating him…I figure every election is worth ten or twenty policies.”

The authors found that “taxation is the perennial issue, often the only issue” on which candidates for state and local office could even distinguish themselves, in spite of party affiliation. However, in “an off-year election (1966)…local influences on recruitment are more easily identified…The issues…were…taxation, national resources, conservation and the War in Vietnam.” Of these, property taxes remained “the salient issue,” despite the formation of a “Save Our Beaches” group and a senatorial election expected to “become a referendum on Vietnam policy, but [Mark] Hatfield played down the Vietnam issue and emphasized his record as Governor,” and the candidates for state office avoided aligning themselves closely with the U.S. Senate race.

When elections for state office were real contests, the authors found, “Candidates…defined the contest as one that divided the community into ‘we-they’ blocs…such as Baptists vs. Methodists, Elks vs. Moose,” or “the people who own the stores and businesses that the ranchers use” vs. “the ranchers,” rather than aligning closely with national political party platforms.

Not surprisingly, some people who campaigned for office found campaigning especially uncongenial. People with especially good credentials, who’d been encouraged to campaign by sponsors, were not necessarily pleased about having been “coopted.” “I’mchairman of the United Fund, I work on the Planning Commission, I run the Elk’s Little League, I’m on the city council,and I try to take time out from all this to keep my practice going. then they asked me to run for the House,a s if I wasn’t doing enough around [name of city]. I don’t know what the [expletive deleted] they want…I’m interested in our locakl problems, but all my friends want me to go to Salem.” Another said, “If I had known what I had to put up with, I would never have let them talk me into running.” Another: “I can hardly wait for this campaign to be over. I feel like I’m marking time.” Most of these highly qualified “coopted notables,” “successful businessmen or lawyers, accustomed to the direct and decisive discourse” didn’t like “Evasive campaign rhetoric…cloying conduct and showmanship...and pandering to a crowd.” Most of them did win, but “All but one of the successful coopted candidate sin 1966 withdrew in 1968, and the other was elected to a higher state office.”

State and local officials in the United States have included some well-known “power seeker” types, but the authors didn’t see this trait in the current crop of Oregon legislators. “Many…seemed hesitant about seeking office and some others were reluctant…the political aspirations were modest.” More experienced state legislators “understandably” had even more modest aspirations than first-time candidates. All appreciated the honor of being backed for office, but one burst out, “I don’t need to be a legislator.”

How important, even to historians, is a study of Oregon’s state elections in 1966? Not terribly, I suppose. I inherited this book from my husband; it had been sent out for review, presumably by someone other than him since it’s not about economics or diplomacy; I’ve seen no indication of the sort of reviews it got in 1974. It was not, in any case, a bestseller or considered terribly important even in its time. It’s not a book I’d urge every school and public library to keep on the shelves. Nevertheless, since the majority of correspondence this web site has received shows that most of our respondents are interested in politics, some even on the state and local level, as an historical document Patterns may interest some of our readers. It may help some people decide whether to “recruit” friends, or let themselves be “recruited,” into political office “on the ground floor.” It may, therefore, be worth reading today. 

If you want it, send $5 per book + $5 per package to either address at the very bottom of the screen. I'm sorry to report that Seligman no longer needs the $1 he'd get out of that price if this were still a Fair Trade Book. The $5 shipping charge, however, will cover at least one more book of similar size; scroll down to find Fair Trade Books to add to the package.