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A call for principled politicians

Aspiring individuals with names inked on Tuesday’s ballots would do well to consider the likes of John H. Evans Jr. His name once appeared on similar surveys. Today, it’s listed on a Supreme Court decision.    

In 1982, Evans was elected to the Board of Commissioners of DeKalb County, Georgia — a suburban stretch of ever-expanding metropolitan Atlanta. As one of five part-time commissioners, he earned an annual salary of approximately $16,000 for weighing in on local concerns like property zoning. Not exactly the stuff of high-stakes politics.

But things weren’t all peachy in Georgia in those days. Allegations of public corruption in the Atlanta area had garnered the attention of the FBI. As part of their investigation, they set up a bogus land developing firm, and that’s where Evans entered the picture. Over a period of more than two years, agents conversed with him 33 times, pressing for favorable zoning decisions in DeKalb County. Eventually, they contributed to the commissioner’s re-election coffers. One sum — $7,000 in cash — didn’t make it on Evans’ state campaign-financing disclosure form or his federal income tax return. Omissions like that equal extortion.

Evans was later convicted under the Hobbs Act, which is “the obtaining of property from another, . . . induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear, or under color of official right.” He appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, but it was of no use. Those judges, too, held that a public official violates that statute when he obtains a payment to which he was not entitled, “knowing that the payment was made in return for official acts” (Evans v. United States, 1992).

Truth is, Commissioner Evans, like all of us, had moments of character crisis long before the FBI came calling. One of mine that stands out in my memory happened in line at the Tobie Twin Cinema. I had just turned 12, which meant I had graduated to an adult movie ticket. I could pass for younger, though. Was I tempted to trade my integrity for a buck-fifty? You better believe it. But something kicked in (God’s grace, as I see it now), and I leaned close to the counter and told Mrs. Maxey the truth.

Whether it’s a dollar character crisis, a seven-grand character crisis, a mid-life character crisis, or any other type of character crisis makes no difference. Life is landmined with those kinds of defining moments. Sometimes the pass/fail scores show up immediately. Sometimes it takes a TIME Magazine expose.   

Which brings us to Tuesday.

Candidates’ positions on everything from teacher pay to jail costs are readily available for the reading.  What’s not so easy to discern are their principles. I’m concerned that while we debate the need for Medicaid expansion, in the long term that funding sink hole won’t be our downfall. It won’t be infrastructure either (although I am plagued by a bridge outage on Lott Smith Road.) Or even drugs, as overwhelming and layered a problem as they present.   

I’m concerned that the direction of our society is largely dependent on our politicians. We need some principled ones.

A principled politician works within clearly defined moral boundaries.

A principled politician promotes openness and transparency in government.

A principled politician makes decisions based on sound government, not the next election cycle.

What about principled voting? I, for one, am not interested in installing ticket fixers, case dismissers and those for whom power has become an end in itself. Cronyism and crime fighting don’t mesh. I also cannot support a candidate who identifies with a party planked by abortion (yes, even locally.) And I have closed my ears to anyone spouting rhetoric that promotes government as a god with endless resources ready (and required) to save us all.

Basically, I’m looking to cast my vote for principled politicians with compelling ideas and the gumption to see them through. The kind who won’t sell their soul for $7,000. Or an adulterous encounter. Or party backing. Or even one single. Solitary. Vote.

Because when those moments of character crisis come for those we elect, the pass/fails affect us all. Just ask the folks in DeKalb County, Georgia. Commissioner Evans’ zoning shenanigans surely came at a cost, and not just to him.    

Kim Henderson is a freelance writer. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com. Follow her on twitter at @kimhenderson319.