You often hear the refrain that all politicians are crooked or dishonest. It is too easy to use a broad brush to brand people as being the same. In point of fact, there are good men and women who are trustworthy among the bad. Let us look at Congress for a moment. I have a general rule that if you intend to serve the people, do not serve yourself, first and foremost. Your duty is to serve your constituents who depend on you.
If you are to seek and hold public office, my heroes are those who have held the public trust by having integrity, courage and exemplifying that rare trait called honor.
It has never been easy in Washington, D.C. to find many who have exhibited the character to be a political hero. Sam Rayburn, of Texas, was one who had the integrity and courage to govern without having been corrupted by lobbyists and others who curry favor in the halls of Congress. His integrity was of legend. Whether it was refusing a railroad pass, or paying his own way to Panama, he did not want to owe anyone any favors, that smacked of money. He refused to be bought. What he owed was what he had promised the voters back home. He died with only $15,000 in the bank, but what he left his district and our country was a legacy fraught with political courage. Mr. Sam, as a few referred to him, was the longest-serving Speaker of the House of Representatives in history. His life long impact on we the people was evident, for example, in the passage of the Public Utilities Act. The bill curbed the power of holding companies as electric rates were unduly high. His knowledge of procedure, helped shepherd many New Deal laws into being which have protected the consumer for many years.
Senator Wellstone, was another example of a person, who stood tall and straight, who fought the good fight with integrity, honor and courage. Even conservative voters in his home state of Minnesota, admired the man, even though they may have and did disagree with him.
Our country has been well served by men and women of character throughout our history. The nineteenth century witnessed a true public servant when John Quincy Adams served in the House, after his Presidency. His defense of the slaves who had taken over their slave ship, is legendary.
Some are quiet heroes who just do their job, unnoticed by fame or fortune but noticed by the voters back home.
I met on the campaign trail a woman of courage and fortitude, Congresswoman Dina Titus, of Nevada. She stands by her votes unafraid. She could give lessons on how to speak to the truth of why she has voted the way she has. But then she taught history, and understands the importance of doing the right thing as she sees it.
Barry Goldwater is another person who never lacked for being able to speak his mind even if you disagreed with him.
The truth is we need more, more people who will not be bought. We need to demand of our representatives that they represent us not the Fortune 500.
There is a story about Speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn. He only asked for your vote, once. If he thought you voted against his advise, he did not mind it if were correct in stating that the reason for your vote was that it would hurt you back home. But once, a fellow Congressman, who was known for voting the way of a small band of businessmen back home, sought to justify his vote, to Mr. Sam by claiming he did so because of the feelings of his constituents. In fact, this fellow went out of his way to seek the Speaker out. Mr. Rayburn just simply told him that he was a liar. He knew that man’s district and before too long he found a candidate with character that he helped defeat the man he could not trust. That is the way powerful men did things in those days.
Well, we need honest public servants now, who have integrity, courage and honor. Honor in that they will keep their commitments to the voters back home, if they can. We need people who will serve us, and not themselves at the public trough. Public service is an honorable profession and that is what we need. May we once again be granted the good fortune to find those with the character to give us their best, with integrity and courage.