I was sitting at my kitchen table today sorting through the week’s mail, the lion’s share of which was campaign mailers from political candidates. That’s not surprising, since the primary election is May 13th. What was a surprising coincidence was, at that very moment, one of the candidates for the state legislature in my district happened to approach my front door.
Now, it’s not unusual for political candidates to expend some shoe leather canvassing their districts in the run-up to an election. That’s because it’s an effective campaign strategy. There’s something appealing about having them come to you, to your very doorstep, in fact, to ask for your vote when, outside of the relatively short election cycle, the relationship between voter and politician runs the other way.
Once I realized who was on my front porch, I left the political fliers on my table in favor of getting the answers I sought from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. We spoke at length. The candidate was polite, engaging, and well-spoken. Too bad I concluded I could not vote for him.
He’s the only Republican campaigning in a district that is predominantly liberal. When I asked him whether he favors Medicaid expansion in Nebraska, he told me that he has committed to vote in favor of expansion in order to get elected. Without explicitly saying so, he gave me the impression that he’d rather NOT support Medicaid expansion and, in fact, may think it’s a bad idea, but he’s willing to vote “yes” on the measure in order to win votes in this district. In fairness, he did say he’s committed to making the expansion bill, whatever form that future measure may take, “better”.
So, in essence, this candidate tried to persuade me to vote for him on the ground that he’s the lesser of two evils, the greater evil being the election of one of his Democratic competitors.
Regular readers at this site know that I’m fundamentally opposed to Medicaid expansion as contemplated by the Unicameral during the last two legislative sessions — LB577 and LB887. But I don’t require a candidate to agree with me on every issue in order to get my vote. Medicaid expansion is something I feel very strongly about, but I’m not a single-issue voter, even when it comes to Medicaid expansion.
What keeps me from voting for this gentleman is his apparent view of the role of an elected representative — that is, to do the bidding of the majority of his constituents at any given time concerning any given measure, even if that requires him to set aside his own judgment and, perhaps, his own principles. This candidate is not alone in his adherence to this view. In fact, I would say that many, if not most, elected officials these days subscribe to it.
I, however, lean more toward the view of Sir Edmund Burke, expressed in comments he made to the voters of Bristol who sent him to Parliament to represent them.
“Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
My worthy colleague says, his will ought to be subservient to yours. If that be all, the thing is innocent. If government were a matter of will upon any side, yours, without question, ought to be superior. But government and legislation are matters of reason and judgment, and not of inclination; and what sort of reason is that, in which the determination precedes the discussion; in which one set of men deliberate, and another decide; and where those who form the conclusion are perhaps three hundred miles distant from those who hear the arguments?
To deliver an opinion, is the right of all men; that of constituents is a weighty and respectable opinion, which a representative ought always to rejoice to hear; and which he ought always most seriously to consider. But authoritative instructions; mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment and conscience,–these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.
Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament. If the local constituent should have an interest, or should form an hasty opinion, evidently opposite to the real good of the rest of the community, the member for that place ought to be as far, as any other, from any endeavour to give it effect. I beg pardon for saying so much on this subject. I have been unwillingly drawn into it; but I shall ever use a respectful frankness of communication with you. Your faithful friend, your devoted servant, I shall be to the end of my life: a flatterer you do not wish for.”
The question I have for this candidate and those who, like him, believe it’s necessary to sacrifice personal judgment on the altar of electability is whether they’ve seriously considered the alternative. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see a candidate for public office who looks you in the eye, tells you what he really thinks, gives you the reasons why, and assures you that — although he knows he doesn’t have all the answers and is aware of his human fallibility — he is committed to study the issues that come before him on your behalf and exercise his independent educated judgment to further the interests of the state as a whole?
And in this particular case, has the candidate taken into account both historical statistics and current polling results showing conservative types, like myself, are much more likely to vote this election cycle than are the more liberal among us? I’m just sayin’ . . .