Monday, October 22, 2007

Politics Without Principle? We Can Do Much Better Than That!

'Politics is a profession; a serious, complicated and, in its true sense, a noble one.' - Dwight D. Eisenhower

'It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it's the parts that I do understand.' -Mark Twain-
Earlier blogs have addressed the discrepancies that exist between election claims and candidates actual performance history.

This one deals with how candidates and elected officials act in their pursuit of office.

People who want to get elected, or re-elected badly enough will sometimes do almost anything to achieve that goal.

That sometimes means using methods they would not imagine using when dealing with friends and family.

That behavior has been rightly termed 'dirty politics', because it deals with intentional lies, distortion of facts, rumor mongering and maybe worse.

But, because of our First Amendment right of free speech, all but the most egregious of these acts are considered 'legal'.

American history is full of examples of this behavior, so desperate are people in things political.

But, rather than celebrate our exercising this 'freedom' by using questionable practices, I find it appalling that some people would squander their freedom in this way!

After all, they are also 'free' to practice common decency and those other good traits that people hold so dear!

Why is that dirty politics is seen as OK? Especially when those practicing it say they all they really want is to represent us fairly?

I find that inherent contradiction very troubling, to say the least.

It says to me that if someone is willing to lie to get elected, they are likely to keep lying when they are in office!

That is exactly what has made politics a 'dirty word'! Dirty politics!

Going negative in a campaign should be an indication of what will likely happen in office, if that candidate gets elected.

Sometimes doing that is part of campaign strategy, but it can also be seen as a act of desperation in which anything goes.

Unfortunately, all such established patterns of conduct or habits are hard to break - particularly bad ones.

It's just that simple.

My choice has always been to try and conduct myself in a straightforward and respectful manner.

I may not always succeed in this, but I try hard to do it, because that was the standard of conduct I was taught many years ago.

Sometimes, I am still tempted to act in ways that I know my own Mother would not be proud of.

When that happens, it is a sign that I need to calm down, rethink what I'm doing, and get back to basics!

That's hard to do, especially in the heat of a grueling, high stakes campaign with an uncertain outcome.

I know that because I've been a candidate for office myself.

But, the first time I was a candidate, it was for appointment to office to fill a seat vacated by the death of a Council member.

Because I had been a good citizen, paid my debts and generally stayed out of trouble, I was as qualified for that office as anyone. At least by the requirements of our City Charter, first passed in 1972.

And, because I was educated, healthy, retired from a long professional career, and willing to spend the time necessary to learn and perform in that public office, all that helped me gain sufficient confidence from the six people already serving as Councilors who would determine who would fill the vacant seat.

But, they had other choices too.

Nine qualified people applied for that vacant seat back in December of 1998, and some were far better known or qualified than me.

Two of the applicants were considered favorites for the appointment, but the Council was evenly split between them.

So, I eventually got the nod, as the 'unanimous' second choice, which as surprise that was but OK by me.

That 6-0 vote was enough to launch me into serving in local government, in a public office I had never aspired to.

I had no public record before that moment, except for the time I served in the US Navy.

But, I had lived in Bellingham for several years, worked here, and my wife and I had gotten to know a number of people.

Knowing people here was helpful too, because they knew other people and the word got spread that I was probably OK for that job.

Now, almost nine years later, I've been through two public elections - one to be elected -not appointed- the first time, and the other to be re-elected.

Each election was a lot of work, even though in the first one it turned out I ran unopposed.

The second election was unplanned, but others convinced me to run again - so I could help bring some unfinished issues closer to resolution.

The 'fun' part of those elections for me was the real focus they required on issues, on future visions for our community, and on how to improve our public process.

These things require tremendous effort to learn and understand enough to even begin effectively addressing them.

Because of the time I had spent in office studying the issues facing the City, I was pretty well prepared to speak to them.

That experience came in handy at forums and when my opponent made claims that were not grounded in fact.

But, how can a citizen -even a part time public official- really learn enough to be effective in resolving big issues?

One way is to study hard, by reading, attending conferences, and visiting other places, all of which I tried to do.

Another way is to spend time in discussion with others, including experienced staff and those who are professionally trained.

But, listening to citizens and hearing their ideas and concerns is every bit as important as knowledge and experience!

That is simply because public problems have to be resolved in a public setting and with the public involved!

That's also why political science is called a 'practical science', and not an exact science.
Believe me, it ain't exact, but it is exacting!

Understanding how to deal with that dynamic is critical.
Most people never have to subject themselves to that degree of public scrutiny, and that intense sunlight can be very uncomfortable at times!

But, who said politics, or serving in public office -elected or not- has to be comfortable?

Under these conditions, 'progress' is defined very differently from what we usually expect.

That's because by their very nature public issues rarely ever get completely 'finished'.

They tend to re-occur again and again, because things do change and people in office also change from time to time.

And, any measurement of progress on public issues, has to include a measurement of 'public process'.
That usually means whether people are satisfied they have been properly heard and the decisions made are fair.

That is why the work of any elected official is never over; it requires continuously satisfying the public's need for open, honest and fair public process!

I never planned a career in public service, either as a professional or an elected.

But others have, some from an early enough time in their life to actually train for it.

And, there is an enormous need for such people, and their talents.

Thank goodness Dan Pike was one of those people!

Like several others now running for office, Dan Pike has not taken the path to public service through the ballot box, until now.

But, unlike me and other appointees, he will need to first attain office by being voted into it by the public.

And like me and others, Dan Pike's education in Planning & Public Administration helped him get the jobs he has held, and perform well the work he has chosen.

Unlike me, Dan Pike already has important public accomplishments to his credit, and has gained valuable real life experience in the process.

He is well-respected by his peers, and the many elected officials -from diverse jurisdictions- that he works with regularly.

Pike understands what it takes to get difficult and complicated jobs done, despite funding uncertainties, competing priorities, the public spotlight, and differences of opinion.

In other words, he has been put to the test for which he was trained, and has passed it with flying colors!
Now, he is ready for a different challenge.

Dan Pike has all the training, work experience, and temperment he needs to succeed as our next Mayor.

But, more importantly, Dan Pike has the habits of honesty, openess as well as the capacity to include everyone in the public process.

Dan Pike also has the good habit of putting principle before politics, whether it is during an election, or while he is serving in office!

He has what it takes to become not just a good, but a great Mayor!

I'm willing to give him that chance.

Our issues are real.

The time is short.

Bellingham's future is at a cross-roads.

The choice is ours!

I will vote for Dan Pike as our next Mayor.

Please join me in helping elect him to that office.

BTW, I am grateful that Seth Fleetwood has also decided to endorse Dan Pike!
Worrying about what's right is always more important than worrying about who's right.

"It is no use saying, 'We are doing our best.' You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary." -Winston Churchill