Opinion | How public servants can serve the public

Community service builds empathy and shows dedication to a cause, both qualities that are important for public servants to have.

Dell Harbaugh, Opinions Contributor

If you’re thinking of current U.S. political leaders, the first thing that comes to mind likely isn’t “public servitude.”

Whatever end of the political spectrum a person falls on, it can be hard to feel as though even the most dedicated politicians care about local issues or want to help their community on a personal basis.

However, the whole point of a democracy is making the voices of the people heard: What does the average person care about? That’s why performing bipartisan community service should be part of the requirements to run for public office.

There are many benefits too volunteering, both obvious and more subtle.

For example, volunteering teaches valuable skills, improves self-esteem, and gives back to the community. This is all extremely pertinent for normal citizens, but this is especially important for a public servant.

Additionally, connecting personally with people in need increases empathy and awareness of what kinds of issues are relevant to constituents.

Speaking at the same level as constituents about how they intend to deal with problems makes a candidate more relatable and better equipped to prioritize as a leader.

It also makes sense for service hours to scale based on the responsibility and term length of the position. Someone running for president should have a vast number of service hours completed through several organizations and should volunteer more than someone running for a position on a small-town committee.

Western Connecticut State University’s article about community service points out the variety of ways to volunteer. There are thousands of causes available all over the country, making it possible for politicians to show support for charities they believe in.

Of course, this makes it more necessary for elected officials to complete their hours themselves. Simply donating money or allowing a campaign’s entire staff to contribute creates a discrepancy; politicians with more funding or more employees would have an unfair advantage.

For a candidate to be eligible for election, their required hours would have to be personally completed before the final day of the period in which they may be selected to represent their party on their respective ticket.

Especially in an age of social media, running for election affords a person a certain amount of celebrity; why not use that influence for good?

Bringing attention to community service organizations is a win-win, and completing the needed hours shows the compassion and commitment of the runner.

In a small independent survey of 14 individuals to gauge support of this idea, 93 percent of 14 participants agreed that community service should be an eligibility requirement, and 86 percent of the participants agreed the requirement should scale.

If a person’s goal as a politician truly is to serve the public, there can be no better way to prove their dedication and reflect their beliefs than by volunteering in local causes to support their people.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.