Character Matters for Candidates
by Richard Nelson
The primary election for Kentucky’s constitutional offices is tomorrow. Even though early voting has expanded the number of days for Kentuckians to cast a ballot, the expected turnout may be a record low 10 percent according to Secretary of State Michael Adams. Considering the high stakes and importance of the offices, one wonders why participation may be so low. Perhaps the smoke of negative attack ads is keeping some of the electorate away.
Most attention is on the Republican ticket where a dozen GOP candidates are vying for nomination for governor for a crack at knocking off incumbent Gov. Andy Beshear in November’s general election. Beshear is the nation’s most popular Democratic governor with an approval rating in Kentucky at 63 percent. But Republican candidates contend he’s not in line with the values of most Kentuckians.
Gov. Beshear vetoed bills protecting infants who survive abortions in 2020; the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, which kept boys who identify as female off girls’ sports teams in 2021; and most recently SB 150, which in part, kept minors from puberty blockers for and gender mutilation surgery. He considered churches “nonessential” during COVID and directed them to remain closed on Easter Sunday, even while other businesses were allowed to remain open. This prompted the Republican legislature to pass the Churches are Essential Act in 2022.
So if Gov. Beshear’s social policies are widely rejected, evidenced by Republican’s adding to their super majorities in 2020 and 2022, and handily overriding his vetoes, why does he remain so popular? Beshear frequently speaks of his faith in God and often quotes Scripture. Yet his policy positions don’t always align with the biblical principles of rewarding good (ticketing church members on Easter Sunday during COVID) and punishing evil (allowing abortion centers to remain open at the same time) (Rom 13:3-4).
Gov. Beshear’s popularity can be attributed to him leading with empathy and reassuring with his calm demeanor, especially in the wake of tragedies, such as the devastating tornadoes in West Kentucky in the flooding in Eastern Kentucky. In other words, his perceived compassion appears to outweigh his policy positions.
It’s a teachable moment for Republican voters who’ve some clear choices between their candidates. While policy positions are very important, demeanor and tone cannot be neglected. Many Republican candidates talk about their Christian faith as well.
Scripture speaks to qualities that make for good leaders. Consider the leadership advice that Jethro gave his son-in-law Moses. “Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens” (Exodus 18: 21).
Ability is the first trait of a leader. So when going to the ballot box ask: has the candidate demonstrated the ability to lead? Do they fear God? Have they proven themselves trustworthy? Do they hate corruption? These qualities transcend party affiliation.
The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) doesn’t just apply to Sunday school. Its an important trait of good candidates. It takes a lot of humility to be big-minded enough to apply this while campaigning. Candidates shouldn’t scoff and mock (Proverbs 24:9). And voters shouldn’t reward those who do.
Christians should be people of goodwill and they should expect the same of candidates. The prophet Jeremiah told the Israelites in captivity to seek the well-being of their community. “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). If this command was given to God’s people in a hostile culture where public policy marginalized them, how much easier should it be today where Christians have freedoms and significant political influence?
Divisiveness, common in politics, is a trait found in second place finishers. Good leaders know the difference between standing on principle and fostering hostility between people. The apostle Paul warned about divisiveness inside the church “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Romans 16:17). Avoiding divisive people is a maxim that believers ought to apply to other areas of life, including elections.
Good candidates will offer a vision for the future. They shouldn’t re-litigate past elections and pick at old grievances, but instead chart a course for what leads to flourishing of their community. “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18a).
I’ve had more people ask for my personal input on the candidates than in recent elections. While there are many good choices on the ballot, it’s becoming clear that it takes more than money to motivate voters. Sloganeering is not the same as governing. And it takes more than a campaign speech to convince. When policy positions are equal, character and competency are the deciding factors.
Richard Nelson is the Executive Director of Commonwealth Policy Center. He is also the host of the Commonwealth Matters Podcast on Spotify. For more of Mr. Nelson and CPC’s content visit www.commonwealthpolicycenter.org
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Fri, March 1, 2024