I never know what the reaction is going to be to my Assessments column in Governing when it is published each month. Some months there isn't any. But in 15 years of doing the column, I don't think I've had a response quite as negative as the one I've gotten for "The Patronage Trap" in the December issue. One reader wants me fired, and another vows to tear out the pages of the column before passing the magazine on to co-workers.

What did I say that was so offensive? Oddly, there seems to be some dispute about that. Some readers think I said that civil service ought to be abolished and all jobs filled on the basis of politics. Others think I said that a new governor has the right to come in and fire every file clerk in the state who belongs to the opposite party. Or that any idiot can run a state agency as well as someone who's been educated and trained for he job.

What I really said, or at least tried to convey, was something much less sweeping. It was that for many routine jobs in state or local government, once you establish a threshold of competence and character, it's no sin to consider political affiliation in filling the position. The idea that one applicant out of 3,000 for a county road crew is the single most deserving candidate strikes me as naive. If the governor wants to help a person who was loyal in the campaign, instead of someone who wasn't, so what? As long as the applicant is qualified, how exactly does the public suffer?

I know there are lots of people out there who disagree with me on this. Does anybody agree with me? If so, you might post a comment here. It will brighten my holidays.