Election Ahead! What to Look For in a Candidate

By Donald P. Shoemaker

Thomas Jefferson spoke in his first inaugural address (1801) of our need for a “wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”

In this spirit, I’ve thought about certain non-partisan values that should characterize good government and the officials who are elected and appointed to its many positions. Here are seven qualities I wish to see as I evaluate those seeking office this election season:

· Frugality – viewing public funds as a limited resource to be prudently handled with great care and not as a constant spring where there is always more to be tapped. It must always be remembered that every tax dollar, regardless of its source and our political good intentions, takes money from people and not from impersonal things.

· Accountability – recognizing that managing public funds and exercising power are solemn trusts. Those who do these things must see themselves as stewards answerable to the people. We believe accountability is due “in the sight of both God and man.” But even if a politician doesn’t think God exists, he knows the citizen does. Accountability also measures actions by their impact on the future long after a term of office has ended.

· Integrity – being people of truthfulness and fairness and good character in light of reasoned principles acknowledged by almost everybody.

· Collegiality – being an effective office-holder through knowing how to work with others, especially those of opposing viewpoints. The collegiate leader earns respect “across the aisle” and knows how to work the political process for reasonable advantage without yielding core values. In short, he knows “half a loaf is better than none.”

· Efficiency – getting the most “bang for the buck” by avoiding wasted time, squandered resources, incompetence and bloated bureaucracy. Jefferson’s call for “suppression of unnecessary offices, of useless establishments and expenses” needs to be heeded as never before.

· Productivity – ensuring that resources of funding, time and talent are used for intended and effective purposes and not, as examples, for self-aggrandizement or for programs likely or proven to fail. A good leader regards no program as sacrosanct and regularly evaluates them for both effectiveness and efficiency.

· Accessibility – demonstrating openness to the people they are selected to serve, whether these people are supporters, detractors or indifferent.

With these qualities in place, we may then move beyond them to the issues we cherish and the inevitable partisanship of any election. But without these qualities even our most favored office seekers will be compromised in their missions, to everyone’s damage and cynicism.

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