Rod St. Aubyn: Personal Principles Versus Representation, The Lawmaker's Dilemma

More than once I have had to shake my head when reading some of the blog comments expressing disdain for their state legislators.  For the most part, our state legislators are very honorable people.  They definitely are not in the job to make money.  It is quite a sacrifice having to take absence from their families and their “real” jobs to do the people’s work in our state capital.  The work is intense during those 4 months of extremely long days and nights, despite what many may think of the duties.

Each legislator comes with their own core values and principles.  Those values may vary from legislator to legislator, but they do possess them.  Some may have strong feelings about limited government, some may have a strong commitment toward education, many have a personal bond for the right to life of every individual, and many share a mix of these values.  But they all have some blend of personal commitments for numerous issues.  These values often shape the voting behavior of our legislators.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]”Some legislators have taken positions that mirror their own personal values, but these positions may not represent the overall views of their district.  This is something that legislators face almost every day when pressing their voting key.  Should they vote on a bill based on their own personal principles and values, or should they vote to represent the views of their own district?”[/mks_pullquote]

I would almost guarantee you that if you carefully reviewed the voting of all the legislators for every vote that they took, you would not agree with any legislator’s votes 100% of the time.

A legislative life is not unlike that of a married life.  Most of the public votes for a candidate not truly knowing exactly what that candidate’s values and views really are.  After a few years of observing the candidate’s voting pattern and his/her public persona, the public’s opinion of that legislator may change.  The so called “honeymoon period” may be over.  A former legislator once told me that the longer you are in office; your enemies tend to accumulate.

Every legislative district is different.  Some districts are very conservative; some are very liberal, while others are really mixed.   Some legislators have taken positions that mirror their own personal values, but these positions may not represent the overall views of their district.  This is something that legislators face almost every day when pressing their voting key.  Should they vote on a bill based on their own personal principles and values, or should they vote to represent the views of their own district?  These controversial issues could be abortion legislation, Common Core bills, gun rights legislation, budget cuts to popular programs, and a myriad of other “hot button” topics.

One could argue that the legislator was elected to “represent their district’s views”, but how does one really know exactly what the district’s views are?  The term “representative” infers that this legislator represents his/her district.  Does this mean that a “pro-life” legislator representing a very liberal “pro-choice” district should go against their own personal values?

As I previously indicated, this is the dilemma that every legislator must face almost on a daily basis.  Taking a stand on a very controversial issue can have political consequences.  Two Republican legislators were targeted by their opponents in the last election based on their support for some controversial abortion bills which resulted in their losses.  I suppose it is debatable if the losses were the result of the amount of money spent by their opponents or by the positions taken by the sitting legislators, but one has to wonder if “personal principles vs district representation” ends up deciding elections.

Taking the controversial abortion issue that I previously used as an example, several other legislators also voted for those same bills, yet they survived their re-election bids.  They may or may not have been targeted.  Also their district views on those controversial bills may have been different as well.  But it once again begs the question, should a legislator represent their own personal principles or represent what they think the district wants?  Despite what you think, a legislator’s task is not easy.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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