As significant and real reforms and spending cuts are being discussed in Lansing, it’s hard not to feel a touch of sympathy for the “constituent services” staffers employed by lawmakers, and even for some of their politician bosses. This was brought home to the Mackinac Center following the publication of a particular blog post last week, “Are Corrections Costs a Mystery?” The angry calls and letters it generated were not unlike those fielded by constituent services workers in Lansing.

Notably, these responses were not from regular families and small business owners struggling to balance household budgets or meet payrolls in spite of egregious exactions and intrusions imposed by state, local and the federal governments. Instead, they all came from individuals who identified themselves as Department of Corrections employees, each of whom rattled off the same list of complaints almost verbatim, as if reading from a script.

In other words, the responses gave the appearance of having been ginned up from “talking points” distributed by a government employee union. The “script” went like this:

  • You don’t know how hard our job is;
  • Have you ever had urine or feces thrown at you?
  • Have you ever been inside a prison?

Short response: Things are tough all over in a state where the people's income has fallen from 17th place in 1999 to 37th in 2009; that doesn't change the reality that we still can't afford the things we can't afford.

Legislators’ constituent services staff are paid in part to get yelled at by strangers who represent vested interests defending their turf against proposed reforms and cost reductions. The anger of these individuals is often palpable. Former Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico once joked that after he was elected, people stopped waving to him with all five fingers.

So, here’s hoping that the real leaders in Lansing buck up and remain strong as they work to rein in the cost of government. Their efforts will be rewarded in both the economic and political realms: As Gov. John Engler discovered when he was re-elected by an overwhelming margin in 1994, voters will see past the vitriol and calumnies heaped upon real leaders by special interest defenders of an unsustainable status quo.