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My Turn

September 8, 2009

My Turn: I can't run for office, but what have I done?

This week's "My turn" column is by Gary Herzig, chief operating officer of Opportunities for Otsego.

Each year, when our election season approaches, I am painfully reminded that I am not eligible to run for political office.

Because of things that I have done in the past, and continue to do, Congress has prohibited me from running in any political election. I am prohibited from representing my neighbors on the Oneonta Common Council or on the Otsego County Board of Representatives.

What, you may ask, have I done to deserve this? I will tell you _ I earn my living by helping poor people.

As the chief operating officer for Opportunities for Otsego, I am proud to be part of a team of hard-working, dedicated and caring staff that helps our county's most vulnerable residents overcome crises and develop long-term plans to achieve increased levels of self-sufficiency.

Our staff includes Head Start teachers and bus drivers, shelter associates, employment counselors, crime-victim advocates, family support workers, food-bank coordinators and others.

Most of them, like me, have been prohibited from running for any political office by The Hatch Act of 1939.

Officially known as An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities, the Hatch Act of 1939 was a reaction to widespread allegations of misuse of Works Progress Administration funds during the congressional elections of 1938.

Among other things, this act prohibited federal employees from membership in any political organization that advocated the overthrow of our constitutional form of government and from engaging in partisan political activity.

Modifications to the Hatch Act, over time, have permitted some federal employees to have greater participation in the political process without being permitted to run for office.

The intent of Congress, I do not believe, was to disenfranchise groups of people such as pre-school teachers and school bus drivers by prohibiting their full participation in the political process.

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