For a time I ran a conservative think tank called the Allegheny Institute (more on that in a future column) which focused on free market solutions to local problems. This is where I first saw the phenomenon of the kept conservative up close and personal. I was an adviser to some members of the country commission.

Counties in America are often governed by a county commission system under three commissioners. The system is set up so that two are of the majority party and the third is of the minority party. In Allegheny County (the Pittsburgh region) that pretty much always meant two Democrats and one Republican. The only real fight the Republicans ever fought was not which party would govern the county, but which Republican would be the minority commissioner. If he didn’t make too much trouble, some small sliver of jobs patronage was thrown his way, maybe a few contracts for his favored vendors with the county, and a small staff on the county budget, plus his salary, benefits, driver, etc. Crumbs from the table of the Democrat machine…

The safest route is to become invested in the mission of growing the company and keeping your bit of the big game safe. But if you take a risk, a real risk, and stand up for principle and just vote ‘no’ on the fiscal cave, or draw a line in the cement (enough with the lines in the sand, which are washed away with each new tide) and vote ‘no’ on new debt, you just might end up being exiled from all of that, sent back home to Poughkeepsie, New Rochelle, Upper St. Clair, Springfield, Greenville, Franklin or Fairview, where it’s back to work on Monday running the restaurant chain or the auto dealership. You probably don’t even get to be the head of some trade federation in D.C. because that’s really a former Senator kind of job; it’s not for just some House of Representative back-bencher. And forget about a plum think tank gig or CNBC/CNN/MSNBC Contributor gig at $500 a pop.