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Thursday, March 23, 2017

We need better leaders

Posted Wednesday, October 20, 2010, at 8:39 AM

Our elected leaders have all too often failed us -- miserably.

Is there anybody out there who believes that when it comes to Congress we've elected the 535 smartest, wisest, most honorable men in the nation? Or the Idaho Legislature represents the 105 best and brightest minds in the state?

Right off hand, I can think of at least half a dozen people in Mountain Home alone that would stand head and shoulders above the majority of congressmen and legislators:

Frank Hicks -- smartest guy I know. Honorable to a fault. A lot of wisdom in those old bones.

Jim Alexander -- First class mind. Completely trustworthy. Willing to tell it like he sees it but always has an open mind to accept new ideas. Strong sense of honor.

Bob Baker -- Smart as a whip. The kind of guy I'd feel comfortable closing a deal with just a handshake. Lot of good, common sense.

Tom Rist -- There's some brains hiding behind that friendly face. Always willing to listen to reason. Not afraid to change his mind when he hears a good argument or gets some better facts. Looks ahead and sees most of the landmines. Trustworthy.

Laurice Bentz -- Hard working, honest, highly capable. Thinks things out. Listens to other people and respects their viewpoints. Our community's successor to Claire Wetherell.

Judi Devol -- my old compatriot here at the News. Good mind, tremendous amount of common sense (which is why she retired from this business), and her feet are planted firmly on the ground. Capable of seeing the relevant facts on both sides of an issue.

Jack Walborn -- Open minded. Very smart and a top-notch analyst. Willing to take an unpopular position if he's sure he's right, and then work to convince others. Completely trustworthy.

See, what I'm looking for in an elected leader is somebody who is smart, reasonable, open-minded, has a ton of common sense and is interested in actually making things work, not at all interested in the power and the "glory" of the job.

Every one of you reading this could come up with your own list of people who meet my criteria. I could add even more given a few more minutes of thought. And as you can see, they cover the moderate political spectrum from conservative to liberal. As long as people fall in the "moderate" category, on either side of the political spectrum, I can live with it.

Every one of them could do a better job than half of the clowns in Congress or the Idaho Legislature. In fact, I often see a better quality of leadership at the local level than I do at the state and national level.

So why aren't people like that serving in Congress and the legislature? Most of the ones I've named have served key elected or volunteer positions at the local level, either in the past, or currently. They believe in the concept of service. And they're not filled with their own importance as so many of the state and national politicians are.

Over the years Idaho has elected a half dozen true eagles to Congress. Former senators Jim McClure and Frank Church come immediately to mind. Both of those guys would meet my criteria. They were smart, honest, capable, reasonable men who had the widespread respect of their colleagues in Congress and genuinely represented their constituents with a high degree of effectiveness. And I've got a lot of respect for Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Mike Simpson right now. They come pretty close to meeting my criteria. Another election or two and they'll rise into the rarified ranks of power in Congress that will allow their common sense to have a wide-ranging impact on this country.

We've also elected a few turkeys. George Hansen and Helen Chenoweth come to mind. Embarrassing. And a couple Democrats that were so forgettable that, well, I've forgotten them.

With issues of unbelievable complexity facing this nation, we need the best.

We're not getting it.

Congress seems more and more filled with sex-crazed buffoons and dogmatic idiots who are more interested in power and gamesmanship than good policies and self over service. A plague on all the parties' houses.

So why does it happen?

Maybe it's in their basic make-up. Far too many politicians really think they're better than the people they claim to represent. They believe they know more. All too often they want to reshape society into their own personal vision of what it should be, whether or not anyone else is interested in wearing that suit.

Too many want the glory. They want to wave to the crowd in the parade and be fawned upon by the "little people." They like feeling important.

The best politicians I ever knew never felt they were better than anyone or particularly important. The best politicians I knew spent less time pandering to the television cameras and working on their two-minute sound bites than they did researching legislation. They genuinely believed they were servants of the people and took the job seriously.

And perhaps, most importantly, they knew that the average American wasn't out there on the wings, that most people are somewhere in the middle of the road. They knew the world wasn't black and white, but usually a very murky grey.

I always use Jim McClure as an example. Jim genuinely listened to people and even if I didn't like a particular position he held, or a particular piece of legislation he supported, I always voted for him because I always knew that he would never shove anything down my throat I couldn't live with.

When he and Frank Church were our two senators, they may have been on opposite sides of the aisle, but Idaho had probably the strongest and most respected senatorial delegation in the nation. And no matter what their personal views or party positions were, when it came down to brass tacks they voted together for and with the people of Idaho.

They both were perfect public servants who knew their job was to listen to and represent the people of Idaho -- all of them, not just the ones that voted for them.

All too often today a politician becomes a "personality" and believes they are the embodiment of the people. They don't need to listen to anyone because obviously everyone who counts thinks like they do.

There's no need to compromise because they are so filled with their own certitude that anyone who isn't on exactly the same page they're on is simply wrong. The concept that someone else may have a good or better idea simply never crosses their minds. To compromise is to accept personal defeat, not a method for finding a middle ground acceptable to most of us.

They spend more time raising funds for their campaigns than they do finding ways to make things work.

As voters, we contribute to these problems by paying more attention to political advertising than to policy actions. We don't study the issues. We get too wrapped up in dogma and don't spend time thinking about the consequences of a policy.

Jefferson believed that the success of a democracy rested on a well-educated and well-informed electorate. Yet with unprecedented access to information these days, few people really try to research an issue and far too many simply ignore any inconvenient fact that might undermine their set-in-stone attitudes. In that respect, too many of our elected leaders are like the average citizen, because they don't do it either. They parse facts to fit party policy and they become so narrowly focused on an issue they fail to look up and see what it means in the long run.

We need politicians who can think, although admittedly, almost anyone with half the brains God gave a 2x4 wouldn't even consider running. They'd see the enormous difficulties of the job, of trying to make things work in a highly complex world.

Instead, we get people more concerned about their make-up for television than they are about the make-up of good legislation.

And as long as we let them do it, we'll be getting exactly what we've been getting.

Which isn't anything to be proud of.

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