Contributed by Wes Keller
Have you ever considered running for political office? Have you wondered what motivates others to run for office?
The act of filing to be a candidate reminds me of pushing boulders off a high mountain slope - something many of us have done (or been tempted to do). It’s often easy enough to start the boulder rolling and the results can be dramatic. Similar to starting a boulder downhill, the results can be dramatic in government too, the evidence being the current government we have.
In America, it’s easy to start the boulder (file to run for office), as it should be. The qualifications are fundamental and attainable to allow equal opportunity. If you know history at all, you know this is a departure from what is “normal” in human government. You were born into it; unless you are an immigrant, you did not choose to be part of this great governing experiment.
Every human inherits some form of human government, no exceptions.
Ours is radically unique. Throughout history, people have had to adapt to patriarchies, monarchies, oligarchies, democracies and republics - every one of which is some variation of human authority allocation and has its own definition of sovereignty. The range of possibilities vary from one man having it all (monarchy) to nobody in charge (anarchy). Regardless of where a person finds himself in this spectrum, he or she cannot escape the task of balancing his or her innate personal drives and autonomy (limited sovereignty) with the “rules” imposed by the human sovereign of that given society. In America, we all inherit a vestige of sovereignty by being one of “We the people…”
Definitions of sovereignty will always be qualified by religion. Christians, Jews and others share the foundational belief that there is only one God and He is the only real Sovereign. Any human authority is ultimately initiated or tolerated by Him. If you think these religious tenets are not an integral part of America, you have been duped. As our Declaration of Independence puts it, “God is the Supreme Judge and the source of nature’s law. [People] assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of Nature's God entitle them…” At the end, the signers appeal to “the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions”.
These words expose the underlying foundational values that have shaped America’s cultural definition of sovereignty (freedom). God makes the rules and He enforces justice based on those rules. In America, our constitution reveals clearly that we know human sovereignty is dangerous and must be limited. Most concur government restriction of freedom is acceptable to attain safety (speed laws for example), and we all fight bitterly when legislating laws to restrict any freedom that we feel is part of our birthright.
Typically, kings of old did not choose to be kings. They inherited the authority, often before they even had the ability to understand right from wrong, much less the wisdom to make just sovereign decisions!
Likewise, in America, we are born with a share of “commonly-owned sovereignty” before we know how to use it. We the people (not a king) hold complete responsibility for secular law. Ideally, civic awareness brings us to the sobering realization of this sacred responsibility - to vote or somehow do our best to protect and preserve our inherent rights. Some are honorable to the level of choosing to risk everything, fighting in our military and answering to the responsibility to protect our rights, while others don’t even bother to vote. God bless those who unselfishly serve.
Responding to a sense of civic responsibility is the only valid reason to run for office. By our culture’s definition, an honorable decision to run for office (or serve in the military) cannot be legitimately separated from its impact on individual or “commonly-owned sovereignty” (freedom). The question/s of rank in the chain of authority cannot be avoided.
Nobody in any culture, escapes having to discover what authority they are under and what authority they have. This quest inevitably includes discovery and maintenance at some level of human sovereignty. Some become control freaks, while others seem passive and submissive. One human might happily choose to obey a kind and just ruler; another may be forced to obey a cruel tyrant simply to avoid pain or death. In politics, the scramble to get the best seat in the room often obscures the legitimate role of being a public servant.
Alaskan legislators must come to terms with the fact that their attained sovereignty level is merely a 1/60th share of the state’s law-making/appropriations branch of government. There is the potential for a very high level of power and responsibility depending on alignment with the will of 31 of the 60 shares. This can be a painful realization for some more than others.
Any legislator’s effectiveness depends far more on his or her ability to strategically and graciously compromise (surrender) power, rather than exercising that power. No matter how you analyze it, the key to success in the legislature is based more on wise limiting of personal sovereignty than on striving to expand it. First and foremost, a legislator must realize he or she is under the Supreme Judge and His laws and then, being under that authority, how to merge integrity and deference to the needs and desires of other legislators and constituents.
In conclusion, I’m implying Alaskans elect too many legislators who run for office for selfish and inappropriate reasons - to satisfy a lust for esteem and power as opposed to having a sense of civic responsibility. While that may seem to be an arrogant judgment, it is nonetheless, true in my opinion. The irony: neither esteem nor power are easy to come by in the legislature. By definition, an effective public servant actually must be willing to sacrifice esteem and authority in deference to the task of representing the constituents (We the people). It is noble to aspire to be elected, but not to be selfish or power-hungry.