Note: The write is a former member of the Montana State House of Representatives.
As the 2023 sessions are about to begin, lawmakers across the nation would do well to heed the counsel of that great American patriot Patrick Henry, who encouraged “a frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.“
Henry was assuming that spiritually and intellectually, we do indeed know what those basic principles are, but that as lawmakers, we frequently forget them or fail to apply them. Human beings often need reminders and require inspiration from the past. Rereading our founding documents – the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the Unities States – will place you on solid ground. They are, after all, the instruction manuals for the job you are about to do. Without them, you are flying blindly into the shifting winds of politics.
While no reasonable person would propose that he or she is an authority on every issue and bill that comes to the fore, it is quite reasonable to suggest that there are certain sacred principles that are inextricably bound to constitutional government and a free society. These historically and biblically inspired tenets may be applied to every vote you will make.
With this in mind, consider the following “handy helps” in your daily work, lawmakers.
Good bill or bad? A dozen questions to ask before you vote
- Does the bill increase or decrease the presence of government in our lives?
- Does the bill increase or decrease dependency on government?
- Does the bill increase or decrease the size or cost of government?
- Does the bill increase or decrease the power of government?
- Does the bill increase or decrease individual responsibility?
- Does the bill increase or decrease liberty and personal freedom?
- Does the bill increase or decrease competition and free choice?
- Does the bill increase or decrease governmental accountability?
- Does the bill increase or decrease state bureaucracy and rulemaking?
- Does the bill treat people as individuals or as members of groups?
- Does the bill reflect justice, or favoritism and wealth redistribution?
- Is the bill based on a true, constitutional role of government?
A light to your feet
Above all, trust in God and trust your own conscience. Stand for principle, not political expedience or the desire to “fit in.” Do not be pressured or persuaded to vote a certain way simply because your party “leadership” instructs you to. Listen to their arguments, but do not be controlled by them.
Furthermore, do not determine the merits of a bill based on what the sponsor’s name or party is. Focus on the message, not the messenger. The idea, not the personality. Have the integrity and personal autonomy to listen to all sides and to think for yourself. Don’t “count heads” to determine the right position. Wrong, democratically arrived at, is just as wrong. If your conscience says it’s wrong and your instincts say it’s wrong, it probably is.
As renowned state lawmaker and conservative leader H.L “Bill” Richardson once wrote, avoid shifting your peer group from your district constituents and trusted counselors to the flattering lobbyists and the establishment elite. Guard against the “head trips” of self-importance. Be a statesman, who thinks of the next generation more than the next election. Always put duty and principle ahead of politics and ambition.
Crony capitalism or freedom?
Republicans in particular love to call themselves “pro-business,” but what exactly does that mean? The true definition of the term is “pro-freedom,” which requires a system of justice that enforces contracts, protects property rights, guards against violence, etc. Freedom is all that private business should require of government in a free society.
Unfortunately, many GOP legislators develop the blind habit of supporting anything that is advocated by specific businesses and industries – especially those with a strong lobbying presence. By so doing, they are empowering government to 1) have direct control over business success and failure, 2) influence (whether through direct subsidy, tax incentives or other carrots and sticks) internal business decision-making, and 3) intervene in the daily affairs of private enterprise.
Clearly, this role of government is not authorized by our Constitution. It destroys freedom and turns the independent entrepreneur into little more than a trained animal dancing to the government’s tune. This type of legislation is typically advanced by the Chambers of Commerce (aka the Chambers of Corporate Welfare) and authored by legislators who have bought into the Keynsian/Socialistic Magic Show that government spending and intervention will somehow produce a net increase in economic wealth. Those who understand freedom and free markets, and who place their faith in human action and individual initiative, immediately recognize this philosophy as demonstrably absurd – a highway to poverty, dependency and bondage.
Examples of freedom-killing legislation dressed up as pro-business include:
- Targeted tax credits that “reward” business for doing what government wants.
- Business subsidies for hiring, job training and other normal business costs.
- Low or no interest business loan programs that replace free-market lending.
- Business licensing that limits market entry and builds walls against competition.
- Restrictive regulations favored by big businesses to burden their competitors.
- Providing public utility monopolies with every favor, protection and cost increase their lobbyists demand, forgetting that these are not competitive private enterprises at all, but are essentially franchises of the government, needing incentive-based regulation that simulates the risks and rewards of the free market.
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