The Mike Rawlings Experience: It Takes a Business Guy to Run a Government Right

I'm just curious. You tell me. Is public service automatically a bad thing? I'm serious. Is any and every kind of experience in government automatically a black mark on your résumé?

At Tuesday night's Dallas mayoral forum, candidate Mike Rawlings, a former corporate chief executive officer, described his rival, former Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle, as a guy who has never accomplished much in life because he spent his career in public service.

Rawlings said, "Chief Kunkle has spent almost 40 years [in the public sector]; not one day has he spent in the private sector. He's never created a job. He's never grown a business. He's never made a payroll."

I don't believe Rawlings was saying that Kunkle is a bad guy or lazy or anything. I assume he meant that the basic economic engine of a city or region is its business activity, and it's better to have a mayor who comes from the business world for that reason. Certainly there's a case to be made for that view.

But then think what Kunkle accomplished for this city. Our police department, under his predecessor, Terrell Bolton, was a junk pile. Kunkle came in, cleaned it up quickly and restored discipline, partly by getting tough with the unions.

We could debate whether he restored morale. If you talk to the union leaders, they would say no. Not their morale. But some of the old-line really serious coppers in the department would and do say yes: He restored their morale by shaping the place up.

Morale is a tricky one. I always got the impression Kunkle's view was that the department would have to earn its morale by doing its duty, not by getting its way. He was not an everybody's-buddy type.

But how do you argue with the outcome? Ask yourself this question: Which police department would you rather have, the Bolton one or the Kunkle one?

I just worry when I hear flat assertions that all things governmental are bad. It's our government. We need it to do its work well.

Why is business better than government? Is a bad business better than a good government? And why would we assume a person from business with no government experience would be better at running a government than a person with solid government experience? Is the obverse true? Would a person from government with no business experience be better at running a business than a person with business experience?

Why isn't experience just experience? Shouldn't a clarinet player have a lot of experience playing the clarinet?

Government! A bad thing? What say you?

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze