“All I can say is, it stinks!” shouts Marko, the guy who cuts my hair, as he waves me over to his chair. I hope he isn’t talking about me, or something I am wearing.
“What stinks?” I ask meekly.
“The Sheriff, taking donations from companies that have contracts with his office,” he replies.
“Oh, you’ve been reading the Post,” I say, relaxing into the chair. The newspaper recently ran a story that called attention to some questionable contributions to Sheriff Stephen O. Simpson’s re-election campaign.
Marko is from another country; I’m not sure which one. I think it is located in Eastern Europe, Asia Minor or thereabouts. He has an interesting take on America’s version of democracy.
He knows that I worked for the government for a long time, and he likes to share his opinions about politics with me. Since he is the one wielding the scissors, I usually just close my eyes, listen, and say as little as possible.
“Just look at the facts,” he says. “A company gets a million-dollar contract with the Sheriff’s Office, then donates hundreds of dollars to the Sheriff’s campaign fund a few weeks later. The contract gets renewed, and then the company donates thousands more.”
“It doesn’t look real good,” I admit, slumping a little in my chair.
“Doesn’t look good? It stinks!” he says. “And it keeps happening. The Sheriff recommends renewing the contract, then he gets another contribution of thousands of dollars, then another. In my country, we
have a word for that. And it is done a lot more efficiently there.”
“I don’t think what happened was illegal,” I reply, rising up a little. “That’s the way the system works. It just looks bad.”
Marko stops snipping and stares into my eyes for a few moments.
“I always had a good working relationship with Sheriff Simpson,” I continue. “He’s a nice guy.”
Then I commit a small heresy: “Sometimes appearances aren’t reality.” He snorts and starts snipping again, very close to my ears – loud, short snips – and I slump down once more.
“If appearance isn’t reality, then I don’t know what is,” he snaps as he snips. I am reminded that he is, after all, in the appearance business.
“I love America,” he says. “It is the land of opportunity. But everyone I talk to keeps saying that the political system is broken. They think all the politicians are owned by the people who contribute to their campaigns.”
“I guess this sort of thing doesn’t help in that regard,” I concede. I decide to try to shift the conversation a little. “Some people think that the Sheriff shouldn’t be elected at all – that we should have a police chief who is appointed, not elected.”
“Why is the Sheriff elected, anyway?” he asks.
“I don’t know. It’s the form of government we have in Loudoun County,” I reply. “And it’s not just the Sheriff, either. We also elect the Commonwealth’s Attorney – the chief prosecutor.” I wonder if I
need to explain what a prosecutor is, to avoid any possible confusion. But his command of English is very good.
“So we elect the guy who decides who should be put on trial, and also the guy responsible for locking them up, who is also the guy who decides when they get to be released?” asks Marko. “And all these guys go out looking for more campaign contributions, even after they’ve been elected?”
“It’s a lot more complicated than that,” I reply. “For one thing, they may not all be guys. They could be women. And there are appointed judges, of course, and juries, and sentencing guidelines…”
“Next you’ll tell me that we even elect the guy who collects taxes,” he interrupts.
“Actually, we do. That’s the County Treasurer,” I say, proud to have a quick response.
“What possible reason could there be to elect the tax man?” he asks.
I think this over for a moment. “Maybe people don’t mind paying taxes so much if they get to choose the person they pay the taxes to,” I finally say in a way that sounds more like a question than an answer.
Marko stares into my eyes again. Then his face breaks into a big smile.
“You see what I mean?” he says. “You gotta love America!”