Sunday, June 17, 2007

Process Matters

In 1994 and '96 I ran for Congress against one of the few elected officials who would not take PAC money, Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa. He was honorable in his service to a degree not often seen these days. By refusing to take money from vested interests he was able to maintain his independence. He looked to the common good and the interests of his constituents, voting his beliefs and his conscience after sober consideration of the issues. This high standard earned him the enmity of the rabid partisans who took control of his party in the '90's and who proceeded to marginalize him during his last years in the House. Rep. Leach finally lost his seat in the '06 election after 30 years of distinguished and exemplary service.

Jim Leach lamented the mean-spiritedness that arrived in Washington with the culture war in the ‘80’s, and which has been ratcheting upwards ever since. One of the things he liked to say during his campaigning was that "process is as important as product," meaning that our political campaigns should focus honestly and respectfully on the issues, and not engage in personal attacks and misrepresentations of the positions one’s opponents. His response to attacks made on him was to address the substance of the issue raised, if there were one, and to reiterate his position that campaign rhetoric should focus on the issues and not on personal attacks.

Throughout his career Jim never engaged in the character assassination, attack ads and appeals to base emotion which have become standard procedure in our political campaigns. Instead, he ran on his own moderate record, promising more of the same, and engaged in honest and respectful debate on the issues of the day. When in Washington he rejected the vicious partisanship that overtook the House during his tenure. He held to his high principles, consistently voted his conscience and worked in a genuinely bi-partisan way.

Process matters and it does directly affect the quality of the product we get. This is a general truism, and it is nowhere more pertinent than in our political process. If we want better government, we need thoughtful, honorable, respectful and wise people in government who will naturally conduct a better process. Throughout his career Jim Leach embodied these traits, practiced an enlightened political process, and upheld the highest values of public service. He has provided us with a role model for future candidates.

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