Pros and cons of "resign to run" laws for elected officials

NOTE FROM ROBIN: This is another post from our Public Sector Industry Group. Welcome, Ray!

Ray Poole
Ray Poole

During this election season, we thought it would be timely to bring up what are commonly referred to as “resign to run” laws.  So-called "resign to run" laws require that before an elected official may run for a different (usually, higher) office, he or she must first resign from the current office.

Presently, five states (Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, and Texas) and several cities (including Dallas, Philadelphia, and Phoenix) have such laws.

Although it may seem odd to someone in the private sector to have to quit one's current job before seeking a promotion, in the public sector context there are a number of good reasons to have such rules.

First, there is the fear that an elected official seeking another office might neglect the duties of the office currently being held. For example, in 2008, nine members of the U.S. House and Senate sought the Presidential nomination. They missed between 12 percent and 50 percent of their congressional votes while campaigning.

Woman Indignant.flickrCC.DavidJohns
"I have to quit before I can run for higher office? Why, that's un-American!"

There is also the concern that elected officials seeking higher office may misuse governmental resources, including their staff, for campaign purposes, as well as the concern that they may give short shrift to their current constituents while being overly solicitous of the constituents they hope to represent.

Finally, advocates of "resign to run" laws argue that elected officials may unfairly leverage their present position against other candidates, while retaining their current positions as a fallback.

That said, not everyone favors "resign to run" laws. Opponents of the laws argue that they make elections less competitive because those whose ultimate goal is a higher office may no longer seek lower offices first as "stepping stones." This could also deprive the candidates of helpful governmental experience at lower levels.

Perhaps even worse, constituents may lose all representation for months-long periods if their elected representatives have to resign before running for another office. Finally, opponents argue that "resign to run" laws discourage many qualified individuals from seeking higher office.

Most of us will never run for public office, much less run for one while holding another. However, it is good to be mindful of these requirements. Although few officials have been prosecuted or removed from office for violating "resign to run" laws, political opponents seeking political advantage routinely hurl accusations that candidates have violated the laws.

Image Credit: Indignant woman from flickr, Creative Commons license, by David Johns.

Robin Shea has 30 years' experience in employment litigation, including Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (including the Amendments Act). 
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