Monday, July 20, 2009

Having Our Cake and Eating It Too

Tennessee State Representatives Jon Lundberg and Tony Shipley were to be found quoted in the Kingsport Times-News on their opposition to the so-called compromise budget and why they voted no:

Shipley, a freshman Republican from Kingsport, and Lundberg, a Bristol Republican in his second term, joined just 10 other House members and one senator in opposition to the compromise budget that passed last month.

Lundberg said that he doesn’t go to Nashville with the goal of doing things that will get him re-elected. “It’s to set good policy and make the decisions people need me to make, not based on being re-elected,” he said. “I stand very firmly behind the logic of this and I think most people would agree.”

“When people knew that we were going to cut the budget, all year long I had phone calls, I had letters, I had e-mails saying, ‘I know it’s a bad year, but here’s the reason we can’t afford to cut my program,’” Lundberg said.

“The stories are indeed compelling, they are truthful. Not only do people believe in those programs but they accomplish important things.”

“I think that’s good PR, frankly, because technically we did cut state appropriations 10 percent, but if we had cut the pre-K program, you would have seen letters from parents saying we’re not taking care of children any more.

“For politicians, this is what they like — they like consensus.”

“When the federal stimulus dollars no longer exist, and the holes we have patched up now with the stimulus money are still there, we will have no choice but to make cuts, and potentially Draconian cuts in many ways,” Lundberg said.

“I didn’t come down here to cut deals on issues like fiscal responsibility and social responsibility,” Shipley said. “Those issues are black and white, and I think you’ve just got to balance your budget and be responsible.”

When people discuss those who serve in public office, one of the common complaints that is heard from average citizens is that everyone enters office being concerned about the next election, not necessarily about doing what they believe to be right. This is very often a valid concern, but many of the same people who say that there is a distinctive lack of principle among elected officials are the first to cry foul when people like Reps. Lundberg and Shipley take a principled but unpopular stand on an issue as important as the budget.

Put more simply, people want principled leadership and a government that can do it all at the same time-they want to have their cake and eat it too.

Both men (as well as the other 10 House members who had the courage to vote no) are correct that the current budget simply uses stimulus money to plug holes that will likely be present in next year's budget with double the force. The cuts which the General Assembly will be forced to make next year will likely be, as Lundberg says, draconian in nature, and all because the Legislature wanted to avoid a political backlash in the short-term this year. We can't entirely disparage those members who voted for the budget (my own Representative changed his mind and voted for it) because many of them believed that it was the best that we were going to get this year, and they were probably correct in that line of thought. Knowing that this year's budget was the best that could be done under the circumstances did not make it the best that it could have been, however, and if you were really going to stand on principle alone you had no choice but to vote against the budget. Had I been the Representative for District 17, I likely would have been the 13th "no" vote.

Both Jon Lundberg and Tony Shipley are to be commended because they have shown that they really are less concerned about the next election and more concerned about the legacy that we will collectively leave for our children's children. These men have set an example of how an elected official is supposed to behave, to do what you believe to be right first and foremost and to be willing to face the political consequences of your actions.

Citizens really need to think very hard about what they want in a leader. If people say that they want principles in their elected officials, but then loudly complain when those principles clash with their personal priorities (i.e. "we know you need to make cuts, just don't cut my program, don't cut me off," or "make everyone else pay but not me, not in my community, not in my back yard") the message that is sent to our elected officials that principles really aren't important to constituents, just as long as individuals get what they want. If I get what I want Mr. Politician, your job will be safe.

People forget that the problems that we see in our elected officials are often problems that we have created ourselves. Ours has become a culture of "me me me" and "I must have what is important to me, forget the right thing," or worse "the right thing is always what is good for me." If people have this mentality for themselves, that same attitude will be reflected in the people that they elect to office. Those officials will do the safe thing, the popular thing, the action which appears to be popular regardless of whether that action is right or wrong. If principled leaders are what we want, we need to begin to respect the very principles which we say we want our leaders to have. If we do not respect those principles, our elected officialdom will not continue to vote according to their principles. The people we elect and the way that they conduct themselves are very often a reflection of the contituents who elect them.

Even if one does not agree with Jon Lundberg and Tony Shipley's votes against the budget, the reality that they were willing to stand for what they believed was right and risk their own heads to do it is precisely why both of them deserve to be re-elected. The fact that some of their constituents may not see that reality is at the root of why too many public figures are blamed for being two-faced, when really they are merely doing the bidding of certain constituents.

If constituents reward perincipled stands with re-election, we would see better and more principled leaders in our government.

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