Nice Guys Finish ... First?

I was happily surprised to see that Michael Bennet has been tapped to replace Ken Salazar as a Senator from Colorado. I knew Michael from law school and working in DC thereafter, and he always struck me as very smart, able, and all-around impressive. What makes his appointment so surprising is that he is so tremendously ... nice. People like that aren't supposed to get ahead, least of all in politics. They're the ones who get stepped on by the ambitious, ruthless climbers who reach the top (or so the movies suggest). In most every way Michael's personality is totally unlike the stereotype of an average politician. For this reason, I would never have expected him to run for the Senate on his own. I am not saying that because he is nice he will be a better Senator, nor am I suggesting that anyone should support him on that basis. But I do find it striking that he was chosen. I also think it is not coincidental that he was appointed, rather than having to run for the office.

This also raises larger questions about differences between the sort of people who get elected and those who get appointed. I recall that, after a couple of scandals in Arizona (remember AzScam?) resulted in the appointment of a bunch of state representantives to replace those who were caught in the scandals, someone analyzed the appointed legislators versus the elected ones and found the appointed superior on most every metric (no, I no longer recall the details). This is most relevant (post-17th Amendment) to the selection of state officials, notably judges. The variation among states is wide, with some (e.g., Texas) electing almost everyone above dogcatcher, others relying heavily on appointments, and still others having appointees who then run for election when their term is up (the closest analogue to Michael's position). Co-conspirator Eric and my colleague Mitu Gulati have done some work comparing judges who are subject to different kinds of appointments, though I can't recall which of their papers are still in the "Don't cite or circulate this" stage.

Anyway, I guess that sometimes nice guys do finish first.