An Open Letter to Elected Officials

I started to write about our magnificent monsoons that make life so wonderfully dramatic here in southern Arizona in the summer and tell of another visit by Miss Piggy and her family. Then I saw an open letter on the opinion page of the Arizona Daily Star and decided that even though it isn’t about nature, it is about human nature. I do not like to expound on things political or religious because I believe that, as important as they are in each individual’s life, they are personal. I prefer to relate to individuals as whole humans not as labels, colors, textures, or genders. I am bending slightly to recommend this article, which is political, but I believe written with common sense. Is common sense Idealistic? I think it is an important message to those to whom we have given the responsibility of leadership. We live in troubled times – troubled because of hubris and greed. It is the unfortunate story of humanity as far back as history itself. To paraphrase Spanish philosopher, George Santayana, – What we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat.

The author of this letter, Tom Chester, is a fellow member of the Oro Valley Writers’ Forum. I included a link to his blog page where you can read other essays and to the Arizona Daily Star Opinion Page. With permission, I am posting Tom’s letter.

From the Arizona Daily Star July 22, 2023

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

An Open Letter to Our Elected Officials


I am writing about the responsibility that elected officials such as you have to the people, our system of government, and the rule of law.

That responsibility transcends personal ambition and political differences. It is antithetical to the churlish behavior so common in news stories of politicians and candidates for office who say and do outlandish things to gain attention of supporters and to vilify those with whom they disagree.

Your role is to govern and serve, not rule. Your primary obligation is to the common good and to the general welfare of the people. It is not to your own political aspirations, nor to your funders or supporters.

Your constituents are not just those who voted for you or who are members of your party, nor are they only the people in the jurisdiction from which you were elected. Your responsibility is much broader than that. It is also to others whom your votes and actions affect, and moreover, it extends to future generations whose well-being will be influenced by your actions.

There is much you can do to help bring civility and honor back to politics — and to set an example for your peers.

  • Shun tribalism. It is human nature to identify as a member of a group — not just Republican or Democrat, but other categories such as religion, race, ethnicity, or political orientation (liberal, conservative, libertarian, etc.). Despite our obvious differences, we as a people have much more in common, including our wellbeing and the wellbeing of our families, our friends, our communities and our country.
  • Avoid virulent partisanship. Political power follows cycles, and one party does not remain in power forever. If your party is now in the majority, it will not always be. If your party is in the minority, it will return to power sooner or later. As an elected official, you should serve with that in mind.
  • Be open to compromise with those with whom you disagree. Good government requires it. If it weren’t for compromise, the Constitution wouldn’t have been created. Even then, it wasn’t perfect, as evidenced by it being amended 27 times so far. Nevertheless, it was good enough to get this country launched.
  • Don’t sell your soul. In seeking financial support for your campaigns, you must be wary of the lure of money and the temptation to adapt your views to those who offer to open their wallets to you, including lobbyists and special-interest groups. As the famous California politician Jesse Unruh advised fellow members of the state legislature 40 years ago, “If you can’t eat their food, drink their booze, … and then vote against them, you have no business being up here.” The devil’s agents wear many disguises and are more than willing to give you financial support — for a price. Don’t bite.
  • Keep thy religion to thyself. Faith is each person’s own business. Most of us voters believe faith should be a private matter, not something to be proclaimed on the campaign trail or wielded like a truncheon in making legislation. Pharisees are bad enough in the temple much less in public office.
  • Don’t wrap yourself in the flag. While we expect our officials to be patriotic, real patriotism is not empty verbiage about the greatness of this country, but wise policies to help it fulfill the promise of the Preamble to the Constitution to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
  • Avoid name-calling and trying to smear your opponents with labels like fascist or socialist, or with gratuitous insults to their intelligence or morals. The body to which you were elected is not a middle school, so don’t act like an unruly teenager.
  • Be modest, admit your mistakes, question your beliefs, and be willing to change your mind.

Although my suggestions may seem too idealistic for the gritty world of politics, the country needs idealistic officials who listen to the better angels of their nature rather than solely to the cheers of their supporters and funders, who understand they have a higher obligation other than just to their party or the next election cycle, who follow the Golden Rule instead of the Lure of Power.

Tom Chester is a retired writer and ne’er-do-well who has lived in the West for 50 years, seven of which in Tucson.

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