Being Ethical is an advice column for legislators by legislators. Each month, a panel of current and former lawmakers weigh in on how to resolve ethical dilemmas.
Recently I was a guest on a talk radio show. Almost all the callers were sympathetic to my political point of view. I wasn't surprised by this, as I'm a fan of the show and know the kind of people who listen and call in. However, I disagreed with much of the anti-government anti-public official attitude of many of the callers. The host encouraged people to rant and rave about the waste of tax dollars, corrupt public officials - you get the picture. Many of these callers are part of my political base. Even though I was bothered by many of their comments, I kept my mouth shut. Looking back on this, I'm not proud of myself. What would you have done? -MK
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Former Ohio Senate
Probably not kept my mouth shut. I think you could have said that while you agree with the basic argument of the callers, all public officials are not corrupt (example, yourself) and all public spending is not a waste of taxpayer dollars (use example of the National Guard, firefighters and police). You could have kept it low key and given honest answers. As public servants, we have a responsibility to challenge these kinds of incorrect statements. That's the way be keep our personal integrity intact.
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Representative Deborah Ross
You certainly were put on the spot, and it's difficult to not argue when someone makes outlandish statements. But rather than argue with the callers next time, use the time as an opportunity to tell people more about how government really works. When people complain about politicians and government, I like to tell them what motivated me to run and why I am honored to be a public servant. I also remind them of the personal sacrifices we make to serve our constituents. Finally, I used these opportunities to tell people what their tax dollars pay for (primarily public education, health care and corrections at the state level). Usually people end up by telling me that they appreciate my service.
Representative David Clark
Several years ago at the beginning of my very first legislative session, a somewhat controversial matter came to vote on the House floor. The bill sponsor was a senior member of the Utah House, not someone that I would like to start out on the wrong foot with. While I agreed with most of the legislation's intent, there was a significant part that I did not. I found myself feeling new and pressured to follow along and did quietly cast a "yes" vote that day. (My version of being quiet on the radio.)
The 24 hours after that vote were some of the longest I can recall, as I did not sleep that night. I remember that no matter how hard I tried to rationalize my vote, I could not. While there have been many long legislative days since, none have been quite as long as that day.
It was Shakespeare who penned over four centuries ago some great personal and political advice "This above all, to thine own self be true."