Houston Forward Times

30 July 2014 Written by  TaShon D. Thomas

Does Incumbency Breed Corruption?

Over the next few months, a saga will play out in Dallas County that will have major consequences throughout the State of Texas. Longtime Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, as well as three others, has been charged with bribery, mail fraud, and tax fraud. Federal prosecutors claim from 2001 to 2011, Price received a stream of $950,000 in corrupt payments and financial benefits in the form of money, cars and land. In his more than 26-year career as an elected official, Price has seen his fair share of successes and controversies. But if these charges are proven to be true, Price’s demise would open a can of worms that will involve all long serving public officials.

While corruption is not something new in the Texas political landscape, it seems as though every 20 years a scandal will break out that ruins the public’s trust for incumbents. The Veterans’ Land Board scandal of the 1950s uncovered fraud in nine south Texas counties, the General Land Office, and even took out the longest serving governor up to that time, Gov. Allan Shivers. The 1970s brought about the Sharpstown Stock Fraud scandal that ended the careers of almost every top ranking elected official in the state. And lets now forget the late 1990s/early 2000s scandals that were Tom Delay and the chase for Republican dominance. And now in 2014, the every changing clock of scandal is about to end the career of a few long-term incumbents.John Wiley Price - Copy

Political dramas such as Boss or Scandal have many Americans clinging to the television waiting to see how the conflict unfolds. These shows give us insight into how low a politician will sink in order to gain more power and keep what they have already gained. The lies, fraud, bribery, and sometimes even murder, that play out on our television screens are a testament what some have done in reality to ensure they hold on to positions of power for life. No being an incumbent does not automatically make you a corrupt politician, but it brings about the perception that you are willing to sell your soul to achieve more yourself than your constituents.

While many African American neighborhoods have either gone through revitalization or continued to go by the wayside, during all this change many of our elected officials have remained the same. Once again I say that they are not all corrupt, but after 20 plus years in office can they continue to be the change that we need in our communities? If I were ever to hold public office I would make two promises to my constituents: 1) I would never hold the same office more than 10 years; and 2) I would guarantee that my successor is well trained to ensure the continued uplifting of the community.

Term limits on all elected officials is a good tool to root out the corruption that comes with incumbency and ensures that a fresh vision is given an opportunity to blossom for the community. Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price’s demise will be one to watch, because it will show how the seed of corruption can spread and continue to grow by the power of the incumbency. We must change our view of elected office, not as a lifetime appointment, but as a vehicle to better the community and train others to continue the task after you. Whenever a long time incumbent campaigns for re-election, I always ask the following questions: What haven’t they completed by now that they need 10 to 20 more years to accomplish? If they haven’t accomplished them by now do you truly believe they can be the agent of change that our community needs for the future? #ijs