Who do You Trust?

Dr. Malcolm Cross

On April 23 early voting for city council, school board and the bond election will begin.  I haven’t yet decided on who I’ll be voting for, and you won’t be able to guess my choices from the signs in my yard.  Several races feature two friends of mine running against each other, so in those cases, I’m allowing both sides to plant yard signs.  Whether everyone will accept my invitation to do so remains to be seen.

But as I’ve followed the various campaigns, especially for city council, I’ve become less concerned with what candidates have to say on the issues, or about their experience, or about their opponents’ lack of experience.  I’m more concerned with their character—specifically, how trustworthy they are.  And by trustworthy, I mean not only how honest they are, but also how sound is their thinking and how civil they can be.

Consider issues:  As I’ve noted before, the tax issue can be slippery.  It’s possible to say one wants lower taxes and to actually vote for lower tax rates, yet still support tax increases by letting the County Appraisal District raise property tax values more than the city council cuts the rates.  Clever?  Yes.  Trustworthy?  Well…..

And suppose someone says without equivocation that he supports lower tax rates and lower tax bills—that is, he’ll cut tax rates more than the County Appraisal District raises property values.  And suppose further he’s elected (or re-elected) and follows through on his promise, doing exactly what he said he’d do?  Trustworthy?  Of course—as long as essential city services aren’t cut.  But what if there’s a crisis which requires more spending, and given the requirement that we balance the budget, that we cut other spending or, as a last resort, raise taxes?  Will he fanatically adhere to his original campaign promise regardless of the new reality, or will he adapt to the new reality, modify his previous position, candidly explain to the voters why he’s changed his mind, and accept the consequences at the ballot box (which may, but not inevitably, include defeat)?

And how about the candidate who’s known to think we’re undertaxed, and says so?  Trustworthy?  Well, such a candidate would certainly deserve high marks for candor, at least, but one would hope that if he discovers we have sufficient funds to carry out essential services, or that there’s a limit to the extent voters are willing to be taxed, he would become more fiscally conservative.

On the finance issue it boils down to this (in my opinion, at least):  The most trustworthy candidate is not the one who talks lower taxes yet refuses to lower them, or who talks lower taxes and refuses to budge no matter how great the sudden need for more revenue becomes, or who always supports higher taxes and more spending, but the candidate who promises (and follows through, if elected) to keep taxes and spending as low as possible consistent with financing necessary city services, who will cut flab or fluff or whatever from the budget when necessary but not muscle, and who will at least consider the possibility on spending more money on the sort of quality-of-life programs and infrastructure which will make Stephenville a more attractive site for manufacturers seeking to come here with their operations and employees.

And here’s where experience becomes important.  A candidate’s experience is important, but not as important as how he’s conducted himself, and what he’s learned.  The fact that someone is a current or former council member means, obviously, that he at least has experience in the job he’s seeking.  But has he exercise prudence, judgment, and civility? Or has he flip-flopped on the issues for political gain? Or has he rigidly adhered to positions after they proved to be irrational?  And the fact that someone seeking a seat on the council has had no previous experience as a council member should not be fatal.  He may have had other life experiences as a civic activist in which he showed the judgment I think is needed for effective service—or he may have shown he lacks the judgment or the temperament to be on any deliberative governing body.  And don’t forget—everyone was once an inexperienced newcomer to something.

So–everyone’s got the right to vote for or against whomever he or she wants, for any reason, or for no reason at all.  I’ll consider a candidate’s stand on the issues, and the quantity and quality of experience the candidate may bring to the table.  But I’m not as concerned about particular stands on the issues as I am on the willingness of the candidate to bring facts, reason, and civility to the table, to stick to his guns when reality lets him do so, or changes his mind if reality so requires.  And I’m interested in learning about a candidate’s experience mainly for what I can learn of his integrity, his judgment, and his civility–his trustworthiness.  My 2 cents worth for the week.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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