What Good Are Principles If You Won’t Stick to Them?

 

m-8458Last November, the people of Georgia State House district 102 reelected me to a third term. A few weeks ago, my 5th Legislative session ended. During the past five years as an elected official, I’ve learned a lot – not just about the legislative process – but about what makes a good legislator.

I still believe people run for office out of a genuine desire to serve their community. Almost without exception, people across the political spectrum run because they have an idea or a set of principles they believe will improve the lives of their neighbors. To be sure, people stumble along the way, make mistakes, become corrupt, or generally abandon the idealistic views they held when they first ran for office. Not everybody loses their way, however. In my experience, many legislators try to do the right thing. In our increasingly cynical society, I wish more people could see the good things I’ve seen while in the Legislature.

One bad thing I’ve observed in the Legislature are those who, over time, drift away from the principles they once held. Most often it’s because they’ve come to the conclusion that the system will never change. There’s good reason to think that. Government is often like the Borg from Star Trek — some eventually conclude that resistance is futile and join the collective.

I have come to the conclusion that the ability to stick to one’s principles—let’s call it “backbone” for this discussion—is more important than what one’s principles are. It’s great to find a candidate whose principles align with your own. What you really need to know about that candidate, though, is whether they will stick to those principles when the pressure is on. Ultimately, what good are one’s principles if they are abandoned under pressure or modified to suit a particular situation?

I’m not talking about changing opinions based on new facts. The ability to learn and admit a previously-held position was incorrect is a desirable trait in a leader. Beware the politician who has never changed his mind.

What I’m talking about is someone who campaigns on one thing but once elected goes against that thing, all the while maintaining that no violation of principle occurred. That to me is the worst of all possible worlds. I’ll take someone I disagree with 70% of the time, who sticks by his principles, over someone who I agree with 70% of the time who caves in when you need him the most.

As the 2016 campaign gets under way, I’ve put “has backbone” at the top of my candidate qualification checklist. I want the 2016 Republican nominee to be a person I know will stand by what he or she believes.

We have a number of good candidates who have announced or will likely announce. There are things I like about all of them. What I’m looking for is that person who can convince me they’ll do what they say they will once elected.

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There are 11 comments.

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  1. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Backbone and the GA Legislature don’t often seem to go together.

    • #1
  2. Kim K. Inactive
    Kim K.
    @KimK

    Thank you for writing this. My father was a state representative and senator in a midwest state in the 80’s and 90’s. All but the last two years his party (R) was in the minority. Much good legislation gets done at the state level by elected officials who are part-time citizen legislators and are known only by their own constituents. Many, if not most, do not remotely resemble the Washington DC crowd. (I now live in CA so it’s not a universal principle!)

    I agree with your 70% calculation, also. Waffling is the worst.

    • #2
  3. user_309277 Inactive
    user_309277
    @AdamKoslin

    “No plan of battle survives contact with the enemy” ~ Helmuth von Moltke (the elder)

    There is no set of principles so perfect that it can survive contact with the exigencies and flaws of the world and human heart.  Compomise, conciliation, and negotiation are how we all get through life.

    • #3
  4. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @TempTime

    Adam Koslin:There is no set of principles so perfect that it can survive contact with the exigencies and flaws of the world and human heart. Compomise, conciliation, and negotiation are how we all get through life.

    That’s a pretty broad brushstroke.  I can think of a couple of exceptions.

    • #4
  5. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @TempTime

    I completely agree with your headline —  but it’s lonely out here.  How’d that happen?

    • #5
  6. civil westman Inactive
    civil westman
    @user_646399

    Sorry to sound a discordant note in a harmonic piece, but our country would do better if legislatures everywhere would simply enact no more laws. There is no shortage of them. As I see it, the underlying social disease is the ever-present and pernicious imperative that we “do something,” no matter that most of what we have done through legislation is simultaneously bringing us to bankruptcy and “fixing” nothing. What we need are principled legislators willing to begin repealing laws and disbanding malignant administrative agencies, the combination of which are choking out our liberty. Since this is Georgia – think kudzu.

    • #6
  7. Southern Pessimist Member
    Southern Pessimist
    @SouthernPessimist

    Any political leader who follows Madison’s principle that the government which governs least, governs best will always get my vote but my enthusiasm for principled leaders has been greatly damaged by the last two presidents who were both quite principled as I define it. I despised almost every aspect of the Clinton presidency but came to appreciate the fact that he had no guiding principles but acted by sticking his finger into the wind to see which way it was blowing. In a way it was the most democratic form of leadership of my lifetime.

    • #7
  8. Songwriter Inactive
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    civil westman:Sorry to sound a discordant note in a harmonic piece, but our country would do better if legislatures everywhere would simply enact no more laws. There is no shortage of them. As I see it, the underlying social disease is the ever-present and pernicious imperative that we “do something,” no matter that most of what we have done through legislation is simultaneously bringing us to bankruptcy and “fixing” nothing. What we need are principled legislators willing to begin repealing laws and disbanding malignant administrative agencies, the combination of which are choking out our liberty. Since this is Georgia – think kudzu.

    I cannot like this comment enough times. CW is absolutely right. We don’t need legislators. We need de-legislators.

    Undo. Undo. Undo.

    • #8
  9. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Songwriter:

    civil westman:Sorry to sound a discordant note in a harmonic piece, but our country would do better if legislatures everywhere would simply enact no more laws. There is no shortage of them. As I see it, the underlying social disease is the ever-present and pernicious imperative that we “do something,” no matter that most of what we have done through legislation is simultaneously bringing us to bankruptcy and “fixing” nothing. What we need are principled legislators willing to begin repealing laws and disbanding malignant administrative agencies, the combination of which are choking out our liberty. Since this is Georgia – think kudzu.

    I cannot like this comment enough times. CW is absolutely right. We don’t need legislators. We need de-legislators.

    Undo. Undo. Undo.

    Check out the actual laws passed. Most of them are deregulatory or clarifying in nature. Act 604 increased gun rights. Other acts brought Georgia law in line with laws in other states, such that the ordinary American would find the law in keeping with what they expected, a concept fundamental to the Common Law.

    There’s some stuff in there I don’t agree with (the confrontation clause is not treated respectfully), but I think in general the assumption that Georgia’s legislature isn’t acting as you would like is unfounded.

    • #9
  10. civil westman Inactive
    civil westman
    @user_646399

    Yes, there are a few exceptions; point taken. However, we would be much better off in the first place with the common law only and many more statutes than are necessary or sensible are still being passed. People understand malum in se. Legislatures at all levels have enacted (and continue to enact) far too much malum prohibitum law which is at odds with ordinary life and expectations. This is further compounded with layer upon layer of administrative law with criminal penalties.

    • #10
  11. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    civil westman:Yes, there are a few exceptions; point taken. However, we would be much better off in the first place with the common law only and many more statutes than are necessary or sensible are still being passed. People understand malum in se. Legislatures at all levels have enacted (and continue to enact) far too much malum prohibitum law which is at odds with ordinary life and expectations. This is further compounded with layer upon layer of administrative law with criminal penalties.

    I really think that if you look through the link above, you’ll find few instances of malum prohibitum being created by the Georgia legislature during that time. There were some offenses that had category shifts, such that strangling is now a more serious form of assault than it was, but I don’t think I saw any malum prohibitum, and I saw a lot of it being removed.

    We don’t want regulators like the ones that Obama has put in place, and even many red state have terrible people in charge (*cough* Sandoval *cough*). That doesn’t make it true to say that our legislators aren’t doing yeoman’s work in reducing the amount of malum prohibitum in our society, including areas, such as gun control, where the actions made bad through prohibition are not merely morally neutral, but actively meretricious.

    • #11
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