When Being Right Is Not Enough

I just attended a conference for lawyers who strategically seek to defend the First Amendment rights of Christians and heard the statement, “Stupid for Jesus is still stupid.” In the context of public office, a candidate who loves God and has all the “right values” is not enough. More is needed.

What is needed depends on the office being sought. Different skill sets are needed for different political offices. And without these skills, all the right intentions may not matter. By analogy, if you’re looking for someone to redecorate your home, don’t necessarily call a preacher. (Guys, if you don’t get the analogy, ask a woman!)

That doesn’t mean that I don’t care what a candidate’s religious beliefs are and his or her worldview. I do. “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” Eventually a person’s core beliefs will influence his or her future actions. And this is important since, before a term is over, who knows what issues the candidate might have to vote on that never occurred to anyone to talk about during the campaign season. That’s why we asked a lot of personal questions of the gubernatorial candidates who had raised a threshold of $1 million and were willing to talk with us on camera. We asked on camera so that you could see their reactions, not just read their words.

So what else do I look for that relates to the job the person is running for?


1. Budgetary/Financial Skills. Executive posts, like Governor, require a couple of different abilities. But, to be honest, first and foremost is the ability to deal with budgeting and finances. A governor is primarily the architect of the state budget. So knowing how to budget and handle money and make decisions about priorities is critical. And don’t expect a person who has not handled his own personal finances or finances in their other life experiences well (business or other political office) to magically become a great manager of your tax dollars as Governor.

But this does not mean that the Governor’s values and priorities don’t matter. Remember that the budget must pay for legislation that is passed. The cost of that legislation really needs to go in the Governor’s proposed budget because a proposed gubernatorial budget can be hard for legislators to amend. So, for example, if you want to see the Governor crack down on drunk drivers, he better share that value and priority because it will cost money for incarceration. And if the cost of incarceration is not included in the governor’s budget to begin with, the legislation will most likely die for lack of funding to cover the cost.

However, another caveat regarding values vis-à-vis budgetary prowess: Remember, when it comes to value issues, the Governor can be overridden by a simple majority of both the House and Senate. For example, Governor Bredesen’s vetoes on gun issues were overridden a couple of times the last two years. But that also does not mean the Governor’s values don’t matter. A Governor fully on-board with social issues can sure help influence public opinion if willing to speak up. Governors have influence, so you do need to know what things are of such importance to them that they may use it to make a difference.

2. Delegation. Another important skill set a Governor needs is the ability to delegate. The Governor cannot be fully informed on every decision that takes place in state government before it is made. He can’t evaluate every expenditure. State government is way too big. Control freaks will lose their minds.

But this brings up another important issue, namely, whom will they surround themselves with? What kind of people will have their ear? We’ve talked about this before. In our candid video interviews with the gubernatorial candidates, we asked questions to try to get at this. Hope you’ll watch at least the answers to those questions (by the way, each question asked can be watched individually!).


1. People Skills. Legislators need to be able to get along with other people, or they won’t get much done. But that doesn’t mean they have to be consistent compromisers. To my way of thinking and based on my experience, a principled politician may not always be buddy-buddy with everyone, but he is generally respected. Lobbyists and others know that if a politician is principled and consistent, they might have a chance to convince him or her of the merits of their position. And they know how to approach the politician. For example, lobbyist knew to bring me written information, and if it was fairly brief, they’d just let me read before they tried to explain anything. Flip-floppers and ready compromisers, on the other hand, can get folks mad because they won’t “flip” when you want them to, but they “flipped” for someone else. Consistency in principle and approach is a plus. (The same skill set is good for a Governor, but he holds a lot more power, and it’s easy for a Governor to fall into the trap abusing it for his own purposes.)

2. Temperament. But legislators need to understand that they are just one vote. Sometime hard-driving executive types are used to being able to determine what needs to be done, and they get it done because they “call the shots.” Some legislators have more influence than others, but no one legislator (other than possibly a Speaker) can bend everyone to their way of thinking. During the income tax wars eight years ago, people just didn’t understand that a pro-income tax legislator had just as much right to vote for budget cuts as I did the right to vote for them. I couldn’t just impose my will on everyone. This fact raises another point.

3. Humility. This one seems contradictory—how can you be humble and think everyone needs to vote for you because you’re better than someone else? Good point, but my point here is that legislators need to know how to lose and go on. Grudge carriers are not good. You lose a bill; you go on. The Good Book says anger works not the righteousness of God. Sore losers aren’t so good either. And in those moments where a legislator can let passion and personality get the best of them, having a politician willing and able to say, “I’m sorry” is important. I admit. I had to do that a few times, even publicly, but every time I had people I didn’t even know thank me for being willing to say so. Politicians need to remember that folks can get mad when they aren’t perfect, but they really get mad with politicians who think they are.

4. Discernment. Legislators (and Governors) also need to be perceptive and discerning and know how to size up a person or organization. There is a lot of stuff always going on under surface that the public doesn’t see and often hidden agendas. Lack of perception can have a legislators stepping into something they should have avoided.

5. Courage. Lastly, a willingness to say “no” is also a valuable ability (same is true for Governor). Almost every issue has at least two sides, and legislators who can’t say “no” will get themselves in trouble and often along with the citizens they represent. Can anyone say “federal deficit?” You don’t want your legislator’s vote to depend on who spoke with him or her last before going on the floor to vote.

So before you vote, make sure the candidate and the office are a good fit. If the shoe doesn’t fit, you may be getting an ugly stepsister instead of Cinderella!