Why I’m stepping down from Republican Party leadership

I believe elected office is a public trust. It is a temporary status conferred upon individuals who have a duty to serve and to represent others for a defined term.

No political leadership role is permanent. That’s why one vital task of a political leader is replacing yourself. People who do not recruit and mentor replacements are mere office-holders, not leaders.

Office-holders will cling to a position for the privilege, the status or the power. They can’t tell you what they accomplished in the previous term. They are unable to articulate any clear goals they hope to achieve in the next. And they aren’t out recruiting and preparing anyone new, because they don’t intend to step down.

Leaders attract a following. Leaders are always recruiting others, not only to help them do the work set out for today, but also because they realize it’s their job to prepare leaders for tomorrow. They inspire others to take up the flag behind them. They step down when they’ve reached their goals, and they hand over the reins.

I support term limits because while not every office-holder is a good leader, the power of incumbency protects and insulates them just the same. But many political positions aren’t subject to term limits. In those cases, it’s up to the leaders themselves to know when they’ve accomplished their goals, and when to exit the stage.

After three terms of service on the Shelby County Republican Party’s steering committee, the time is coming for me to step down and let others take my place.

When Lang Wiseman recruited me to serve in an at-large position on the steering committee in 2009, I simply wanted to get more involved. I was able to learn many things from Chairman Wiseman and his team, and I had the pleasure of serving on the technology and communications committees and contributing to the Republican sweep of every countywide office in 2010.

Wiseman stepped down after a single term and was replaced by Justin Joy

In 2012, presenting Chairman Justin Joy with a donation as President of the Northeast Shelby Republican Club

In 2012, presenting Chairman Justin Joy with a donation as President of the Northeast Shelby Republican Club

Although Joy ran unopposed in the 2011 chairman election, every at-large position was contested by a slate of other activists. That challenge gave me the opportunity to address the convention with a speech encouraging unity and continued participation, a message that handed me the largest vote total of the day. In those years, I helped stabilize a steering committee divided in factions and suffering from turnover in the executive director’s role. Although we were disappointed by the 2012 Presidential election, we celebrated the victory of Amy Weirich as District Attorney General.

At the end of the term, I was promoted to the 4th Vice Chairman seat and was challenged for reelection to the position in 2013, with nearly-identical results. That time, I used the convention speech to take a stand against the chairman of the Shelby County Commission, Mike Ritz, a ringleader of the consolidation movement. And this year I contributed to another Republican rout of countywide offices, and a big win for our Republican-endorsed judicial candidates, as chairman of the party’s candidate recruitment committee.

I had to laugh this past week reading the news. The Memphis Flyer, the Memphis Daily News and the Commercial Appeal each responded to the election with in-depth articles about the Shelby County Democrats and what they need to do in order to reclaim power. Scarcely a word has been written about Chairman Joy, one of the most humble and modest leaders I have ever worked with. And it’s very fitting, because he doesn’t seek the spotlight; his results speak loud enough.

It has been a great honor serving under Chairman Wiseman and Chairman Joy and working alongside many fine members of the steering committee, several of whom I recruited and are now finishing their first terms. All of them are capable of filling my seat as 4th Vice Chair. I have completed all that I set out to do. Not everything I did was completely successful, but I gave my best through three general election cycles and a series of special elections in-between. Now it’s time for some of these new leaders to emerge and to build upon what we have accomplished, so I will not be running for a fourth term next year.

It has been a busy period. While on the steering committee, I also served three terms as an executive officer of the Northeast Shelby Republican Club, as President, Vice President and Treasurer. Simultaneously, I put together a grassroots organization to fight school consolidation and led two referendum campaigns in favor of Bartlett City Schools.

Now I turn my attention to the campaign for Bartlett Alderman Position 1, where voters will have a choice between a “new” candidate and an incumbent who has spent the last 18 years in government.

I take this step not to occupy an office but to serve the public, for a limited time.

If you’d like to support me in that effort, I certainly welcome your help.

On losing your principles

freeman-park-rally

In an earlier post, I wrote about the importance of challenging people in government who lose their way, especially members of your own political party.

Being “independent” does not mean you are “unaffiliated,” it means thinking for yourself and drawing your own conclusions. When you care about your community, and when you care about the reputation of your party, it’s your duty speak out against bad behavior, lapses of judgment and abuses of authority.

I think I understand now why people sometimes ignore that duty. If your assessment is not shared by other members of your party, it can cost you relationships, position, esteem and support. It’s much easier to go-along and get-along.

Yesterday our city was visited by three well-known candidates: Governor Bill Haslam, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander and a U.S. Congressman Stephen Fincher.

From the stage, Congressman Fincher said he used to criticize the Senator’s record until he got into office himself and had his own record criticized. The point, I think, is we shouldn’t judge people in elected office. We may not realize the pressures and tradeoffs involved in their decisions, or perhaps we’re not aware of the information at their fingertips, information that would reverse our positions and align us with those in office.

I agree that we shouldn’t judge people in elected office. In Matthew 7, Jesus commands us not to judge anyone. But as voting citizens in a democratic republic, it is our right and our duty to evaluate their service, and to support candidates who represent our views.

What struck me about Fincher’s words was less about the pressures of the office and more about the pressures of the candidate. When you’re the new kid on the block and the popular figureheads of your party ask you to go on tour with them, are you going to say no, or will you make a concerted effort to remain in their good graces?

When Senator Alexander spoke, he held up his Little Plaid Book of political advice and quoted a laugh line from within: “Walk in parades… If it is the Mule Day parade, walk at the front.”

After the program, I asked Alexander about another section of the book.

“Senator, what about #297?”

“What’s 297?”

“From the book you just quoted.”

“You’ll have to cite it for me.” [even though it was in his back pocket]

“It says, ‘Serve two terms and get out.'”

“Didn’t I do that?”

“Yes, you served two, now you’re running for a third.”

“As Governor, I served two terms.”

“It doesn’t say ‘serve two terms as Governor…'”

littleplaidbookAt that point, the Senator turned his back to me. The conversation was over, and his defense was that #297 was written exclusively to apply to the office of Governor.

There are two problems with that interpretation.

First, the subtitle to Lamar Alexander’s Little Plaid Book is, “311 rules, lessons, and reminders about running for office and making a difference whether it’s for president of the United States or president of your senior class.”

In the introduction, he says he finished the book for a young man who asked him for advice about serving in public office and “for anyone else who has ever thought about running for and serving in office.”

In short, Alexander’s rules are not specific to a single office. They are intended as general advice for anyone seeking any elected position.

Second, Alexander would not have written rule #297 to apply specifically to his term as Governor because that office is already term-limited by the Tennessee Constitution.

Article III, Section 4, states, “The governor shall be elected to hold office for four years and until a successor is elected and qualified. A person may be eligible to succeed in office for additional four year terms, provided that no person presently serving or elected hereafter shall be eligible for election to more than two terms consecutively.

Are we really supposed to believe Senator Alexander wrote a rule limiting himself to two terms for an office in which he was already limited? If that were the case, Alexander’s intellect would be in question.

Instead, I think the question is his commitment to his own principles. The political process has a way of corrupting good people. Many politicians begin with good intentions and make an effort to really reach out and connect with voters. At the start, they know power corrupts, so they limit the time they intend to serve. But politics eats away at principle, and soon enough you turn your back on the people you were elected to serve. Literally.

It’s our duty to challenge such people, no matter what the cost might be to our own reputation.

When Character Was King

When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald ReaganWhen Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan by Peggy Noonan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Peggy Noonan does a wonderful job reminding us that Ronald Reagan was not only a President worth celebrating but also a man of character worth honoring.

Noonan takes readers on a fast-paced tour through Reagan’s formative years, his professional career and his political journey, stopping only long enough to mention a few illustrative anecdotes from each period.

At times Noonan has a hard time leaving herself out of the story, but she succeeds in explaining Reagan by interviewing the people closest to him, and in bringing out the context and details behind the most memorable moments of his life and Presidency.

Written in 2001 while Reagan was still living, after a new Republican President had just entered the White House, and while the attacks of September 11 had just occurred, the reflections are shaded by the time period and add a second layer of texture to the narrative.

The section on Iran-contra, considered the worst chapter of Reagan’s presidency, would be written differently today, given the Obama trade of high-level terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay in exchange for captive deserter Bowe Bergdahl.

And certainly Reagan’s reaction to the attack on Korean Air Flight 007 would warrant more than a passing mention, in light of Russia’s continued aggression in Ukraine and the downing of Malaysian Air Flight 17.

Perhaps more than anything, we would notice Reagan’s love of America, and his desire to make it a diplomatic and military force for good, his praise of entrepreneurship and liberty, and his ability to work and communicate with Americans from all walks of life.

This contrasts with the small, bankrupt America that now leads from behind, apologizes for its power, leaves its ambassadors to die, tells small businesses “you didn’t build that” and gives undue scrutiny to politically disfavored groups.

Supporting good candidates is a public service

The following are my remarks to the Rotary Club of Northeast Shelby County
Thursday, July 10, 2014

Elizabeth PowelGood afternoon. Thank you for the warm welcome and for inviting me to speak with you today.

I understand Mayor Mark Luttrell was your special guest last week. He probably didn’t share this, but back in 2010, our party had to literally beg him to run for Mayor. He was experienced and comfortable as our Sheriff, and he had to be convinced that his leadership skills could translate well to the mayor’s office and benefit the whole county. Mayor Luttrell has proven himself by managing our county government efficiently, paying down the debt, and providing tax relief. So I urge you to consider supporting him again on August 7.

It’s an honor to be with you today. I see some familiar faces in the room, fellow Youth Villages employees and others I’ve met through my volunteer work with the city and the Chamber of Commerce. I’ve never visited this club before, and I appreciate the opportunity. After I received your invitation to speak, I remembered that in 2009, my Leadership Bartlett group chose the Rotary Club for our class project. Looking through my records, I discovered that I actually registered the domain name bartlettrotary.org and built an earlier version of your website as part of that project. So I do have a history of working for you, if not with you.

As I’ve researched your club and Rotary International, I’ve been really amazed by what I’ve found. I learned that for years now you’ve been helping Youth Villages kids with a coat drive, and that you’re also the ones who run the silent auction at Bartlett a la Carte to benefit our organization. I also learned that your sister club in East Memphis helps children with congenital heart defects from third-world countries, and supports their families while the children receive life-saving surgeries at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, where my wife is a nurse. Thank you for being the people who go above and beyond to serve others. I love it that your club’s focus is public service.

This is a big election year. Before we get to the election on November 4, we have next month’s county general and what has been called the longest ballot in Shelby County history. There are hundreds of candidates for us to consider. So today I’d like to talk with you about how we select candidates and why it’s so important that we do so thoughtfully. And I want to suggest what might be a new way to evaluate the candidates, one that’s in line with the focus of this club. Continue reading

The Secret Knowledge

The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American CultureThe Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture by David Mamet

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Renowned playwright and screenwriter David Mamet spares nothing in this blistering critique of politicians, particularly American progressives.

The Secret Knowledge is an entertaining and surprising telling of Mamet’s ideological awakening, and he writes with the fierce urgency of a recent convert.

The book, and the journey that prompted it, were born of a play Mamet wrote as “a love letter to America,” concluding with a liberal reconciliation of the Right and Left.

The play alarmed the intolerant speech police, and the New York papers were outraged. Mamet responded with an essay on “Political Civility” in the Village Voice, which drew even more outrage, leading to this book.

Mamet brings a playwright’s creativity to what is otherwise a standard libertarian-conservative critique of current-day American politics. Each short, easy to read essay is packed full of Hayek, Friedman, Sowell and other intellectual heroes of the Right. He provides a strong defense of capitalism, freedom, justice and other American values, as well as the state of Israel.

He also excoriates socialism and “social justice,” and reveals the truth behind each in a profoundly accessible way that will leave conservatives applauding.