Choice and accountability is an often-heard theme. We all know our choices have ripple effects on others and so must be careful to account for that impact. After all, have we not all heard of the butterfly effect causing tsunamis half a world away? Incidents in the past week have reminded me again of the importance of carefully evaluating choices because of the very public way legislators must account for our actions.
I'm not making any judgments. No one is perfect, and as the Alexander Pope reminds us, "To err is human, to forgive divine." However, I do believe our position warrants a moment of introspection and evaluation.
As a part of ethics reforms passed last year, legislators and lobbyists are now required to complete ethics training each year. As I completed my required training, I was particularly struck by the following line from the online training manual, "The office of a legislator carries certain privileges and responsibilities that require a heightened self-awareness of the influence, impact, and the effect a legislator's actions have on others."
The second half of that sentence I find particularly important; the need for "...a heightened self-awareness of the influence, impact and effect..." There are obvious ways in which the choices of legislators effect and impact the population. Votes on new tax requirements will impact spending habits and tuition assistance offered in exchange for greater academic achievement may change student study habits. These are the types of things that come most quickly to my mind when I think of my impact, my accountability, and the ripple I send out. How do I impact your pocketbook or our broader social construct? It is sometimes hard to keep in mind the less tangible impacts; the subtle perceptions created about me, and to a certain extent the entire Legislature and state, based on my choices.
All public officials, no matter the level at which they serve, have one very important thing in common. We all made a choice to run for office. Of our own free will we made a bargain that, in exchange for the power to make weighty decisions, we all agreed to live public lives open for review and comment. We submit to being accountable to you.
Becoming a public official in any capacity unlocks a mixed bag of perks and problems. There is the weight of making decisions that might be prudent, but unpopular packaged with people who want to bend your ear on any number of important issues. It is a heady mix filled with the highest highs and lowest lows.
Despite the awesome power of decision-making, the bargain of public service does have its extreme downsides. The advent of blogs and on-line comment forums mean people feel free to impugn the character of others behind an electronic veil of anonymity without proof or consequence. Living in the public eye is uncomfortable for legislators and their families, but I believe it is necessary as a continual prick to the conscience. This is how we maintain that necessary self-awareness to gage our influence, impact and effect.
Reminding ourselves of the importance of choice and accountability to the electorate is what provides the moderating influence to the politician's power. It's the check that balances the scales. We owe you an accounting of what we have done in your name, with your tax dollars, and with your respect. We are all human beings with flaws but as legislators, it is critical we maintain that heightened sense of self-awareness so that we don't forget to constantly measure and assess our influence, impact and effect on you.
Rep. Brad Dee is the majority whip in the Utah State House of Representatives. He represents House District 11, which covers portions of Davis and Weber counties.