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Taking the Reins

January 03, 2011 J

If you’ve never seen the Robert Redford Movie The Candidate, you owe it yourself to take a look. I’m going to spoil this movie in the next couple of paragraphs, so if you care don’t read any further until you’ve rented and watched it.

The Candidate is a reasonably accurate portrayal of what campaigns are like – if you worked on the 2010 elections, you’ll recognize many of the elements. Some things haven’t changed in 40 years. The basic storyline finds an unknown, idealistic liberal Democrat, whose father is a former Governor of California, deciding to take on the Senior Senator of that state, a long-serving conservative Republican. I’ve always thought the “unknown beats icon” part of the film was inspired by Bob Packwood’s out-of-nowhere upset of “Lion of the Senate” Wayne Morse in 1968. They couldn’t take that story exactly as it happened, of course, since the Republican won in the Packwood-Morse race, and it’s a Hollywood film.

Redford’s character essentially abandons any values he held before the election, at least publicly, so that he will have a chance to win. Urged on by his experienced campaign manager, he shifts from wanting to discuss what he sees as “the real problems” the nation faces with race, unemployment and poverty to a much more cynical – and less issue-specific – approach that ultimately proves successful. After he wins, Redford pulls his campaign manager into a room in a hotel packed with celebrating supporters and asks, “What do we do now?” The question goes way beyond the surface – Redford has become completely captured by the campaign experience and has no ideas of his own of what’s expected of him next.

Across Oregon and the nation, hundreds of new elected officials who won their races based on support for limited government and economic freedom are taking office. Many of them are experienced public officials, so when they ask “what do we do now?” their question is based on holding a new office, rather then holding their first office. Others, like Redford, are facing the crucible of elective office for the first time.

Being an elected official doesn’t mean very much if you are not willing to implement policies that reflect the values that got you elected in the first place. The Republican Congressional majority that held sway in Congress from 1995 – 2007 should certainly have taught us that. Turning your back on those values is also a good way to get unelected.

In the Oregon Legislature, and in local offices across our state, conservatives were elected last November. Now they are tasked with fighting to implement limited government policies – less spending, lower taxes, fewer regulations. Where conservatives have a majority, AFP expects these policies to be implemented. In some instances, conservatives will not be in a majority and have little chance of winning ultimate support for these policies. But AFP expects elected officials to introduce these ideas, to fight for them, to speak publicly in support of them, and to do all they can to convince their liberal colleagues and the public to support them. In return, AFP Members will back those elected officials who support our values. As we have over the past year, we will write letters, attend hearings, lobby, and bring other types of public pressure on officials.

“What do we do now?” AFP knows the answer to this question. And we’re watching to ensure elected officials do as well.

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