Saturday, September 20, 2008

Beyond Politics

When I announced my candidacy, the Deseret News reported that "the son-in-law of Hugh Nibley announced his bid to run for public office." I was a bit frustrated with the story. Not that I mind being associated with Hugh Nibley--he was more than my father-in-law; I consider him the father of my spiritual self. And as Hugh Nibley's biographer, I got to know him better than most people ever did. I have never been ashamed to be introduced as Hugh Nibley's son-in-law. He was, for me, a true hero.

But when the Deseret News reported that it was Hugh Nibley's son-in-law who was entering this race, I felt they had overlooked my own qualifications for running: that I had worked for almost a decade in Washington, DC for the U.S. Congress and that for most of that time I worked for both sides as non-designated staff. I not only gained experience learning how government works and about the issues of importance to citizens, but I gained experience working with both parties and with very diverse personalities. I felt my own qualifications were being somehow diminished by the focus on my relationship with my famous father-in-law.

But I have been rethinking that original frustration. I think Hugh Nibley had a lot to say about politics that made a huge impact on my life. One of his essays that most impressed me was called "Beyond Politics." There, Nibley observed that politics can "bring out some of the best in human nature," including "energy, dedication, courage, loyalty, selflessness, zeal and industry." But he also noted the darker side of politics--the "dirty tricks and shady deals, payoffs, betrayals," the "scheming" and "Gadianton loyalties." Nibley challenged us to move "beyond politics," to put partisan behavior and self-interest aside and work for the common good of our community.

I lament that campaigns inevitably end up mudslinging: name calling, innuendo, distortion of each side's record, honest misstatements being played up, all for political gain. But when the mud starts flying both sides end up dirty, and the community ends up the real loser; we end up more divided upon partisan lines and with less trust for whoever wins. Call me an optimist, but I honestly believe most people who get into politics do so for good reasons and that there are good people on both sides of the aisle. I believe this because I've worked with some of them side-by-side. I've seen their tireless service and their good hearts. I've also been saddened when these individuals' reputations have been muddied in campaigns. It happens all too often in American politics.

Don't get me wrong, campaigns should be the place to lay out differences between the policies and ideals of the two sides, and incumbents must stand behind the record of votes they have cast. All that is fair game. But I wish we could raise the level of discourse.

When my biography of Hugh Nibley was published, I received praise from two LDS U.S. Senators, one a Republican and one a Democrat. Both loved Hugh Nibley and were inspired by his life and words. I felt good that I had managed to please both men--bipartisan support in the Senate is not an easy thing to achieve. But it also meant that my writing had built bridges, that I had not alienated either man. That is my promise to voters this year. I promise to bring consensus building and openness to government.

Two of Hugh Nibley's greatest virtues were his independence of thought and deep loyalty to community. He spoke his mind, but he always affirmed his commitment to his community, his church, and his God. It’s those very virtues that I’d like to bring to the Utah state legislature. I promise to be an independent voice, not beholden to either party or to any special interest, and keep my loyalties reserved for the community of Utah valley.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Of Ideals and Ethics

Now that Labor day is over and students are back to school, the political season has officially begun in earnest. Both national conventions are over and we are in for a historical election no matter what happens: either we get our first woman as vice president or our first black president. It's an exciting year!

I am also very optimistic about our choices. When I worked in the U.S. Senate, I got to watch John McCain in action from a fairly close perspective. He never served on the same committee I worked for, but he had a reputation for putting country ahead of party and always seemed kind and self-defacing in person. I was impressed not only by McCain's life story, but by his actions.

I left Washington, DC long before Obama came to town, but I am impressed by his zeal and vision. I honestly believe we are in very good hands this year; instead of having to vote for the lesser of two evils, I think we have the good fortune to chose between two impressive and competent leaders.

As non-partisan/non-designated staff, I had to work for both the Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Energy committee. Later I worked for the non-partisan research arm of congress, the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress. In both positions, I gained a great appreciation for the hard work of both Republican and Democratic members of congress and their staff and how dedicated both sides are to serving their country.

Unfortunately, I also saw how special interests can influence both sides as they buy influence to push their agendas. I saw how the strong ideals of the many can be corrupted by improper influence. I came to believe that if we want ethical conduct of Congress we have to put laws on the books that require high ethical standards.

This past few years, we have watched our state legislators take lavish gifts from lobbyists and pass questionable laws that appear to put lobbyists' interests ahead of voters' interests. My opponent opposed legislation that would have required schools to offer healthy snacks in their vending machines, apparently putting the snack-food lobby ahead of our children. She sponsored legislation that effectively lowered the taxes on smokeless tobacco, a bill that was opposed by the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the Coalition for Tobacco Free Utah and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. The bill was lobbied for by the tobacco industry. And an audit of Mountainland Applied Technology College and subsequent newspaper articles revealed that my opponent pressured the College to build a parade float for the Utah county GOP, likely using public funds. She is also a co-chair of an organization called the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization that holds closed meetings to produce “model legislation” promoting the interests of big-business and with strong ties to the tobacco industry.

I am convinced that most people go into politics for idealistic reasons, wanting to make the world a better place. I am also convinced that my opponent is a good, well-meaning person. But having seen the ways improper influence can lead good people to compromise their ethical standards, I firmly believe that it is only by having solid laws on the books which demand ethical conduct of our leaders that we will keep those good, idealistic people good and idealistic. If I were to take bribes from my students for the A's they all think they deserve, I would be fired as a teacher. If I were a businessman who took a bribe when negotiating a contract, I would be fired from the company and likely investigated by the police. Yet we allow our politicians to take lavish gifts from lobbyists and suppose those gifts do not influence their positions. We must demand change.

Whether McCain or Obama wins this election, I truly believe the country will be in good shape. I am an optimist when it comes to this nation's future. It's a country that allowed a steelworker's son to go on to grad school and become a college teacher. It's a country of endless possibilities and hope. It's a country forever looking forward to a promised land. But to make future happen, we voters must hold our elected officials feet to the fire. We must demand the same ethical behavior of our politicians that we live ourselves and teach our children.