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Guest Column: College-Bound Pols

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

While the news that state senator Mike Knapik (R-Holyoke) would be leaving the legislature to accept a post at Westfield State University may have been of particular interest to the senator’s Western Mass. constituents (to say nothing of those interested in running for his seat), it no doubt struck everyone else as business as usual.

State legislators moving into state government jobs are fairly regular occurrences in the Bay State. The state’s colleges and universities are a very frequent landing zone for these pols. Questions about conflict of interest or political favoritism surrounding these career moves are also fairly routine, but the practice seems to go on unabated.

Why hasn’t there been more public and media attention given to the potential improprieties of these moves? Why hasn’t there been more attention to the functional impacts of these moves on the operations of state government, both at the legislative and administrative levels?

Part of the answer to these questions is that too few have an incentive to raise and consider these issues publicly, and those who do have such an incentive either have less credibility with the public because of that incentive, or have less access to the public dialogue. In Massachusetts, conservatives and Republicans have clear political incentives to attack this practice because they are on the outside looking in most of the time. Academics are among those with an incentive here that doesn’t suffer from political credibility problems. However, the professors lack sufficient access to the public dialogue because their work is usually too complicated and their conclusions too nuanced to make them primary contributors to the ongoing political conversation in the news media.

Another possible hindrance to greater scholarly attention to these questions in Massachusetts is that the state’s institutions of higher education are a primary beneficiary of these career moves. The state’s colleges and universities have a pretty clear institutional interest in the ability to influence state-level politicians. In this vein, I couldn’t help noticing one line in the statement by Westfield State’s president on the selection of Knapik for the university post. He said, “I was not involved in this selection process until the search committee presented him as a finalist, and his interview with them and me was extraordinary.”

Why did he feel it neccesary to distance himself from Knapik’s selection as a finalist for the job?

Food for thought.•

 

Jerold Duquette is an associate professor of political science at Central Connecticut State University. He is the author of Regulating the National Pastime: Baseball and Antitrust and has published articles and book chapters on campaign finance reform, political parties, Massachusetts politics and political culture, public opinion, and political socialization. Professor Duquette lives in Longmeadow with his wife and four children.

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