Monday, April 30, 2012

Legislators should "vote their Districts"...right or wrong?

What does it mean when legislators say, "I vote my district?"  Throughout a decade as a state Representative and Senator, I witnessed confusion among fellow legislators over what it meant to represent one's district.  There was a genuine lack of understanding as to what that really meant.

Republican Legislators, for the most part are elected by their constituency with the expectation that they will uphold the U.S., State Constitution and the Rule of Law, knowing that those two key principles create constancy and certainty within our society.  While agreement to these two principles is an frequent mantra by Republican candidates, the adherence to them, once elected, is too often overlooked or ignored when reviewing legislation when faced with self-serving demands of constituents.

Candidates will often promise that:  Once elected, I will represent this district." 

Disgruntled constituents often confront their legislators with, "You were elected to represent your district." 

Legislators, once in office, then face the dilemma of having to choose between their understanding of "voting their district," or voting consistent with the conservative principles they espoused during the campaign.  

These commonly heard cries by legislators and constituents turn into an excuse for some legislators to deviate from principles as they ponder their vote on controversial legislation.

 So, what then are a Republican legislator's responsibilities to his/her constituents when faced with an apparent conflict?
  1. To Vote as consistently as possible, in line with the Party's conservative principles.  The goal of holding to consistent voting patterns based on principle provides confidence among constituents and reinforces the value of that principle in the eyes of other legislators.
  2. To explain your votes to constituents, using reasoning based on the Party's conservative principles. Such explanations will reinforce the value of these principles to others.
  3. To uphold the Rule of Law in all voting decisions.  Decisions consistent with the Rule of Law are fundamental to an orderly society.
The Perceived Dilemma: 
Republican lawmakers are often faced with the perception that some legislation will not be received well by their constituents.  More often than not, Republicans are faced with such dilemmas more often than their Democrat counterparts. Democrat lawmakers inherently craft solutions to issues that will seek immediate "relief" to constituents' needs.  Republican solutions generally address issues with longer-term solutions.  Consequences of "solutions" put forth by Democrats generally require greater government involvement and erosion of one's individual liberty, while Republican solutions generally require the individual to assume personal responsibility.

A couple examples come to mind:

First example:  Let's say legislation comes before the Agriculture Committee requiring all employers to ensure, through the Federal E-verify Program, that all newly-hired employees hired are legally present in the United States.  Although hiring of illegal aliens is unlawful, it is rarely monitored, and as such many ranchers and farmers are willing to assume the risk of federal penalties as they hire such labor.  Legislators representing such areas know their constituents rely on this illegal alien labor to make a profit.  What to do? For those legislators more political than principled, this can present a dilemma.

While campaigning, Republicans can be quite vocal in convincing their constituents that they will work hard to uphold the Rule of Law.  It is fundamental to our political system that all persons be treated justly and fairly within the law; that no man is above the law.  As a Republican legislator, pledged to uphold the Constitution, the Rule of Law must be viewed as paramount when assessing this legislation. 

Second example:  A bill comes before the legislature that requires each person wishing to vote to provide proof of citizenship.  A legislator representing a heavily Hispanic area becomes convinced that if he/she votes for the bill that he/she may not be reelected at the next election cycle.  What to do?

Election Integrity is paramount to the foundation of our Republic.  Therefore regardless of any resistance, intimidation or otherwise, the legislator should feel compelled to vote in favor of the Voter ID bill.  Following the vote, it will be necessary to explain this vote to some constituents.

"Representing one's District" does not necessitate pandering to a particular segment of constituents to gain short-term favor at the expense of those conservative principles advocated during a campaign cycle.  Instead, reinforce conservative principles at every opportunity;  they are the best for constituents over the long term.