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Character Matters

10 Jun 2014
Today is the Primary Day in Nevada. In this campaign cycle I have seen behavior that defies all reason, but that's par for the course in politics. Conservatives and liberals trade places, and beds, with an abandon that would make Alfred Kinsey blush. Over the years I've come to realize that issues come and go; they change in form and substance. From the time of a campaign to the time the elected takes office, much can change that substantially alters the point of view that a candidate might need to take on issue. The final legislation will certainly be crafted with different wording from that posed on the campaign trail.

Consequently, the only reliable barometer for behavior in office is character. Look inside a candidate's character to see how they will behave when issues arise that are different from what arose during the campaign. Look inside to see how they will respond under pressure.

Character can be measured on many levels, as noted by the saying that "an honest politician is one who stays bought." Many people believe it is a mark of character for a candidate to take a position and never budge from it, as if the ability to learn, grow, and change is dirty and sinful. I believe character starts with the ability to learn and grow from new information, but that does not excuse a candidate who makes different promises to different audiences. Being wishy-washy, disingenuous, or all over the board is a sign of political deviousness, not character. This is why Republican Lieutenant Governor candidate Sue Lowden, having donated thousands of dollars on many occasions to liberal Democrat Harry Reid, has no credibility posing as a conservative. Conservatives who support her, after she slashed their throats as chair of the 2010 state Republican convention, show every sign that they will continue hurting themselves with their bad choices. They don't seem to know better.

Another sign of character is evidence that a candidate is willing to live and act within the requirements they make of others. Al Gore's enormous carbon footprint, for instance, left by his many estates and private jet transportation, makes his dire warnings of carbon-based disaster ring hollow. For this reason, when a candidate campaigns as a conservative in favor of fiscal and personal responsibility, it is fair to look askance if he (or she) does not personally meet that standard. By this standard Sue Lowden, who owes more than a half million dollars in 2010 campaign debts, completely flunks all the tests of fiscal integrity. So does Republican Congressional candidate Niger Innis, whose debts include his income taxes; as did former Congressional candidate Danny Tarkanian, who had millions of dollars in court judgments against him while he ran for office.

Innis is a special case in other ways, because according to state voting records, he only recently realized that he is a Republican; he has only voted Republican in Nevada once in his life. If he only recently changed parties, fine, but why did he only recently begin voting at all? Is nonvoting now a civic virtue to be used as a qualification for office?

I first happened upon the candidate integrity issue when I was a young Democrat. In 1975 I was a 21-year-old student area coordinator for a liberal slate of candidates for Austin City Council - at a time when conservatives still ruled the Texas Democratic Party. We won a dramatic victory that year, flipping the council split from 2-5 to 5-2 and electing a 29-year-old lawyer and war protester as mayor.

One of my precinct organizers was a gung-ho 17-year-old dormitory resident assistant, the late Lena Guerrero. Lena was easily my best organizer and seen by everyone as a rising star. Nine years later my wife and I were walking door-to-door for Lena in her first, and successful, campaign for state representative. Seven years after that, Governor Ann Richards made history by appointing Lena as the first female and first Hispanic member of the Texas Railroad Commission - the state's regulatory body for oil and gas, not railroads. The Railroad Commission is The Show in Texas, so Lena's future seemed boundless.

Then it was discovered that she had lied on her campaign materials about having a college degree with Phi Beta Kappa honors, though she had never actually graduated. That was bad enough, but the coup de grace was the discovery that Lena barely spoke Spanish and had flunked Spanish in college. That was the kiss of death for her credibility in the Hispanic community. Soon the rising star was plummeting into the sea and forced to resign. I watched and learned from afar the hard lesson of being honest despite all temptations.

Today candidates seem to be able to drag all sort of personal baggage into their campaigns, and the Blind Faithful just don't care. I look for candidates who talk the talk of righteousness, morality, integrity, and humanity - and who walk the walk in their own lives. Those are the ones you can trust. The rest are a roll of the dice: Loaded dice. Play that game at your peril. Now, look again at your candidates of choice. Do they really measure up? If not, and you vote for them anyways, whose fault is it really when they implode on center stage?

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