Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Principled Vote

Shortly after taking office for my second go-around as an elected official I voted “no” on a subject that was overwhelmingly supported by the other members of council. After the meeting a local reporter asked me if we could expect more "principled" votes.  I took the question to mean whether or not I vote no on something that I felt was morally or ethically wrong if there was some ancillary benefit to it. My answer was of course, "yes" you can absolutely expect more principled votes from me in the future. Frankly, too many elected officials hide behind the "do what's best" for blah blah blah mentality when they're voting on issues. 

First let’s define principle - a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning.

After being in office for a year or so, I was publicly criticized by one of my peers in the local paper for voting on principles. This council member went on to say that he wanted to do what's best for Aubrey. He was using the "do what's best for Aubrey" defense for his non-principled votes. Of course if there was one council member who preaches his principles to get elected, it would be this guy. Under the "do what’s best" theory, it doesn't matter if what you vote for is illegal, unethical, or immoral, as long as it's "what's best" for something, it's ok to vote for it. This council member proudly exclaimed that he didn't vote on principles, all I have to say to that is, he said it, I didn't. 

The problem with officials who follow this philosophy is that there is no consistency in how they vote. It is much easier for their votes to be manipulated by someone who can make an argument that the city would benefit in some manner if their principles are a moving target. For the most part all small towns have some financial limitations, and often the draw of a potential increase in the revenue for the city coffers will make even those who started with principles to change their positions if they do not firmly vote with moral compass. However, in these instances the entirety of the project needs to be thought about, not just the money. There still is no such thing as a free lunch, if a small town gets a sudden windfall of money in the city coffers, there are usually consequences or responsibilities that the city will have to deal with.

One example in this part of Texas was the rise and fall of the Barnett Shale. When the gas money came roaring in, all the cities we spending like there was no tomorrow. However, overnight the gas price plummeted, and so did the revenue for the effected cities and they went from more cash than they could spend to huge deficits, literally overnight.  This led to large increases in taxes and cuts in services, and a big mess to clean up.  Trying to get an official at any level to see the future downside of anything, is difficult at best. They tend to look at things like this through rose colored glasses, and turn the common sense switch to the “off” position when potential downsides are presented. They have their minds made up and won't be confused with facts.  If you stand by a set of principles, then dreams of fortune and fame doesn’t play into your vote. 

To see what is right and not to do it is want of courage, or of principle. Confucius

Another thing that I see especially at the local level is voting on emotion, not principles.  Whether or not someone supported a certain person in the last election, has a direct impact on whether they will get a friendly reception at city hall.  That permit they want, may be influenced by whose sign was in their yard during the last election.  For those who can’t separate their personal life from city business, they have a broken moral compass and should not be serving in any elected position.  However, this is a vicious cycle, in which people know that there will be repercussions if they speak out against a candidate, and therefore they stay quiet and in most instances don’t even vote.  They get disgusted with the process and simple give up.  In cases like this, there is zero principles involved, and it happens all the time. 

As they say, you’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.    If your officials don’t have some moral compass that they live and vote by, maybe it’s time for a change.  However, we need to pay more attention to how our officials act, and less about what they say.    It is our responsibility in a republic to not only vote, but to hold our public officials accountable to the principles they claim to have. If they do not vote on principles, then we must throw their butts out of office.  Perhaps we should think about our own principles and vote for people who share them.   

Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost. John Quincy Adams