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Picking A Candidate: What Matters?
Colton Moore speech provides opportunity to explore what matters when picking a candidate.
This article also appears on NorthwestGeorgiaNews.com and in the Catoosa News Walker County Messenger opinion pages.
Like our federal government, our state government is a republic. We are a representative democracy. It is important for everyone to understand the role citizens and elected officials play in the legislative and executive processes. In our country it is not the people who decide most issues.
This may surprise and upset some but it is a truth that too many voters ignore: Elected officials are not meant to be a direct interpretation of popular opinion. Edmund Burke, the father of Conservatism, said “your representative owes you…his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”
“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,”
Put simply, we elect people for their judgment. We should evaluate candidates based on their judgement and their approach to the job they are seeking. Voters should be mindful that legislative roles require a different approach than executive positions.
In Georgia, at the General Assembly, our elected representatives and senators decide issues, formulate policies, and enact laws. It is then the duty of the governor to faithfully implement and enforce the policies and laws passed by the legislature.
We are going to have a big election in Northwest Georgia in May. After Senator Jeff Mullis announced his retirement, there is an open seat in the 53rd State Senate district. Colton Moore, a former district one representative, and Steven Henry, a former Catoosa County commission chair, are running to fill his seat.
I had a chance to hear the speech Colton Moore gave at a recent Walker County GOP meeting. Below are a few clips from that speech and my thoughts that inform my evaluation of his candidacy. The original and full video can be found on the Walker County GOP Facebook page.
Colton is right. Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America is among the best overviews of the American experiment. It should be required reading for all Americans. I must correct Moore on one point. Alexis de Tocqueville wasn't even alive during the revolution and did not make his trip to America until 1831. The period in which he made his observations is an important detail.
I like Colton’s attempts to use history in his speeches and discussions of current issues. In this case, a humble Roman assuming the role of dictator to save Rome then giving up the reigns of power voluntarily. Cincinnatus actually performed this feat of incredible civic virtue twice.
The Cincinnatus reference was striking. The comparison Moore made here is subtle but very telling and I will return to it at the end.
I am probably in lockstep agreement on the republican conservative principles he referenced.
This clip is most interesting for the bit that criticizes transactional politics. A transactional process has always characterized American politics, especially legislative politics. He’s asking for your vote, you give that with the expectation that he will vote a certain way overall or on specific issues. That is a transaction. In a legislative sense it is horse trading, the give and take to achieve various goals each participant has often despite with competing ends. Politics is a never ending stream of arduous choices. It’s messy but it is the work of the government.
President Barack Obama shared Colton’s view of transactional politics. His delusional belief in his powers of rhetorical persuasion and his moralistic style of politics disregarded any view other than his own as wrong and indefensible. No compromise and no middle ground. As a result his only legislative achievement was on healthcare when the supermajority in congress meant he didn’t have to compromise or engage in transactional politics to achieve his goals.
Contrast this with Presidents Reagan, Clinton, and Trump. Very different men, very different policies, but each had a transactional view of politics and were much more successful as a result.
Claiming to be above the fray as Moore does in this clip is great for the campaign trail but wholly ineffective for governing.
The tried and true route to an applause is to denounce government, taxes, or incumbents. No matter the truth of the matter.
Financing government is complex and deserves more thoughtful consideration than a talking point applause line. Some facts to consider:
Georgia has the 5th lowest state tax burden per capita.
Georgia has the lowest total state revenue per capita. (taxes, fees, etc.)
Georgia has the most balance in streams of revenue in the nation.
This is nothing more than the dumbing down of democracy. It’s easier to vote no and grandstand than to explain a tough issue to constituents.
He was one of the few republicans who voted against the budget. A budget is never perfect. No one gets exactly what they want. But his reason for voting against reveals a fundamental lack of understanding in state finances and government.
Georgia does have a state debt. But Colton is simply wrong in how he characterizes it. It is nothing like the national debt. It is advisable to use debt as a means of achieving generational equity in capital spending. This means long-lasting capital assets such as bridges, roads, and buildings are financed using debt that is repaid over a long period of time. This method allows all users to share the cost burden. This isn’t evil or reckless. It is conservative, intelligent, and fair governance.
For the record:
Georgia has the third lowest per capita state debt in the nation.
Georgia has the sixth lowest state and local debt per capita while Texas has the 11th HIGHEST in the nation.
It is true that Colton was the first cosponsor of constitutional carry his first year in the house.
Remember that politics and legislating is always a transactional business in a democracy. A legislator must build relationships and coalitions to get anything done.
The 15th vote of Colton’s legislative tenure should have been insignificant. This no vote turned out to be a harbinger. The vote was on a bill from Republican Speaker Ralston to name a building after former Governor Nathan Deal. Something so lacking in controversy and that it passed 159-2.
It was noted in the Atlanta Journal Constitution at the time what this vote had to do with constitutional carry. The two no votes on this innocuous bill were also the first two signatures on constitutional carry. Speaker Ralston surely remembered this fact.
Constitutional carry did not pass while Colton was in the house. Nor did the discipline bill he sponsored.
Both were good bills that are good for the state but that alone is rarely enough for any bill to become law. A good representative and effective legislator is required to make good ideas and bills become law.
In his 2018 campaign, Colton promised to address a property tax issue in Dade county. As with constitutional carry and student discipline, Colton didn't deliver. Promises he made and bills his constituents wanted did not happen because he failed to understand his role as a legislator and the path to accomplish his goals.
The primary function of democracy is to foster and encourage deliberation and consideration. The legislative process allows for reasoned argument and debate from all sides.
Remember that Colton began his remarks by comparing his decision to run for state senate with the ancient Roman story of Cincinnatus. Although a humorous and absurd comparison—Georgia isn’t facing an existential threat and is a prosperous state—I think it speaks to how Colton sees the role of the office he is seeking.
Cincinnatus assumed the role of dictator not of legislator. In this executive role he could just get the job—saving Rome— done without any need to build consensus behind his decisions. He could act without fear of how his actions might undermine his ability to do other things in the future.
A good legislator must build coalitions and must build relationships. It doesn’t matter what position or principle a candidate has if their approach to the job is wholly incompatible with what it takes to be successful in that job.
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