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Last 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.Published in