A moral compass and current political culture

Hopping into Spring
Judith Cannon.

Our current political culture seems to attract many private sector individuals who have successfully advantaged themselves in the private sector. Oftentimes, they are exposed for their questionable business practices, and now seek new avenues to pursue wealth and power fueled by their addiction to GREED! Aggression is a trademark in their organizational culture that embraces hostility to others and violence. An inflated sense of self-importance and omnipotence permeates their behavior in office, accompanied by their lack of knowledge-based skill sets for public sector management and governance. Spontaneous and erratic behavior patterns, with little thought of results or consequences creates a mentally abusive environment for citizens. Today citizens are suffering from persistent mental abuse administered through an abhorrent style of leadership and a steady diet of mistreatment salted with abusive language. The result is that we, as a nation, are suffering from acute fatigue.

Why are citizens of our country electing or watching individuals being appointed with these flawed personalities and backgrounds from the private sector to our most cherished public-sector positions at the national, state and local levels? When has solid experience and training and a track record of success in the field in which one works become unnecessary as a requirement for selection? Where has logic broken down and emotion overridden our voting habits? In Florida we are failing miserably in this area and we need to be especially careful. Greed for power and control is racing through the bloodstream of our state like an epidemic. Recently I have been told by established residents across the east and west coast of Florida that the cost of commercial property and residential dwellings has become prohibitive, causing established small business owners and middle-class homeowners and renters to be pushed out of their businesses and homes. Middle class Florida residents are at the mercy of real estate brokers and developers. Millionaires, who are now billionaires, have no room for the middle class within their geographic boundaries. What is the Florida legislature doing for the people?

The people select their leaders. Power resides with the people and the people derive their power from their vote. It is time that people take more responsibility for civic leadership and eradicate habits that disengage and surrender responsibility for participation in political outcomes once the election is over. An educated electorate safeguards our future and our democracy. Safeguarding means we care and are informed and involved citizens and voters! We need to be able to make critical judgment on the decisions our leaders take and call them out when necessary. When our leadership does anything or implements anything, we have to assess ROOT VALUES. Are our values based on virtue ethics? If not, an assessment of our root values is needed. There are two types of TRUTH – HARD DATA, which is observable and measurable; and then there is the second type of TRUTH – SOFT DATA, such as rumor and innuendo that people feel is true and can emotionally override hard data truth. We need to make choices at the ballot box based on practical criteria that serve as a guide to make informed choices.

In the private sector the bottom line is profit, however, in the public sector, the public corporation of the people, the bottom line is the public good. Ethics is a personal set of principles that programs us for what is good/bad; right/wrong; normal/not normal. We can, however, establish standards of behavior in our public and private sectors, and in our local communities. We can tell public servants that if they violate the established rules they will be responsible and held accountable; and we can be vigilant and responsible for ensuring enforcement of consequences.

A book by Richard Kyte titled Ethical Business states: “What does it mean for an organization to be ethical? Does it mean simply that it does not get involved in scandals or that it doesn’t break any laws? Or does it mean something more? For example, might it mean that the organization contributes something positive to society – by providing living wages for its employees, a reliable return on investment for its shareholders, or support for charitable organizations in communities? Might it mean even more? Might it mean that it provides meaning and purpose to the lives of its employees or that it enhances the quality of life of the community in which the organization resides?” This holds true for the public sector as well and is achieved when ETHICAL leaders are at the helms of organizations, in the private and public sectors!


1. Leadership Skills
Is the candidate open to adjusting her/his vision based on thorough input from all constituent groups?

Has the candidate developed a sound track record of solid, consistent and open leadership on past positions?

Has the candidate received any awards for outstanding leadership; especially seeing some project through to completion with impressive results?

Does the candidate know when to lead and when to follow? It may not be healthy if someone must always lead.

Does the candidate exhibit humility in the leadership situations she or he has accepted? Strength and humility are very desirable partners.

2. Communication Skills
Does the candidate speak candidly and specifically about the issues avoiding excessive rhetoric or emotional pleas?

Is the candidate consistent with a minimum of significant changes in opinion depending on whom he or she is talking to?

Does the candidate use all available communication techniques, including the internet, and provide useful and accurate information on a wide range of campaign issues?

Does the candidate tell the whole truth, not only what is not so good about the track record of his/her opponent, but also what is good about them and what is lacking in their own record? This level of honesty may seem unrealistic but some politicians have actually been able to achieve it.

3. Legislative Skills
Do you feel this candidate is a cooperative person based on his/her experience with other groups or the way he/she present their ideas?

Does this person come across as someone who really listens and seems sincere in his/her willingness to incorporate other people’s ideas with their own?

Is this candidate a true collaborator trying to find the best solution for everyone as opposed to taking a hard line all of the time?

Does this person have a record of addressing issues in a timely manner and not using the legislative process to delay action on important issues?

Does this person exhibit an interest in how things get resolved with attention to research, open discussion and the use of facts more than just emotional considerations?

Does the candidate respect the policy-making responsibility and avoid jumping over to get too involved in administrative affairs?

4. Issues
Does the candidate have a specific position on all important issues and exhibit a willingness to defend his/her views as well as adjust them when good new ideas are put forward?

Is the candidate fixated on one issue with little to offer on the other important issues of the campaign?

Does the candidate have a track record of consistency on most issues as well as a proven ability to get results with the assistance of people from many walks of life?

Does the candidate base her/his positions on solid facts and figures with due consideration of the long-term impact of her/his positions?

Does the candidate exhibit a willingness to debate the issues in a fair and open way at forums held throughout the election?

5. Election Behavior
Does the candidate pledge to run a positive campaign with no negative or misleading advertisements and has he/she lived up to that promise?

Has the candidate promised to clean up campaign laws and has he/she lived up to that promise in the past?

Does the candidate get financial support from sources you respect and trust, and will these sources not try to overly influence this person if they are elected?

Is this candidate trying to buy this election with his/her personal fortune or someone else’s fortune?

6. Vision
Does the candidate have a clear vision and does it basically agree with your personal vision for the community, state or nation?

Is the candidate’s vision realistic and does it avoid using the tired platitudes of past political campaigns?

Does the candidate have specific goals and objectives as well as a realistic plan to achieve them?

Is the candidate’s vision and plan consistent with existing plans that have been established via consensus of a cross-section of interest groups and individuals?

Is the candidate’s vision affordable and does it actually help to reduce future costs by preventing problems that are already occurring or could occur in the future?

Is the candidate’s vision consistent with other members of his/her party so there is a reasonable chance it can be pursued collectively?

7. Personal Attributes
Does the candidate have a history of telling the truth and being open in all previous business dealings and public endeavors?

Is the candidate free of obligations to special interest groups or individuals who could put undue pressure on them if they are elected?

Has the candidate ever spoken disparagingly about any minority person or group or supported a law or policy that could be construed as discrimination?

Has the candidate earned the respect and endorsement of a cross-section of people who live within the election district?

Does the candidate have a track record of treating people fairly, with compassion and no sign of abuse or unhealthy behavior?

8. Promises
Is the candidate making promises that seem to be within the realm of possibility for the office she/he is seeking?
Are the promises specific enough that you will be able to hold her/him accountable for their successful implementation?

Has the candidate provided realistic cost estimates based on both short and long term calculations? Have these figures withstood media and expert scrutiny?

Has the candidate made unreasonable promises to cut taxes without explaining how this will be accomplished without hurting anyone or causing other costs to increase?

Has the candidate put her/his promises in writing and shared them with the entire constituency via the media, the internet and other communication vehicles?

Does the candidate have a history of keeping the promises she/he makes?

9. Bureaucracy Aptitude
Has the candidate made derogatory comments about the public service or threats that are not based on solid facts?

Has the candidate made positive statements about the need to work with the public service and find ways to better utilize their talents?
Has the candidate exhibited a sound knowledge of how the various departments function as well as what some of the areas of possible improvement might be?

Has the candidate expressed support for sound planning and displayed knowledge about the best practice planning efforts of similar jurisdictions to the one he/she is trying to represent?

Has the candidate spoken of the need for accountability, not only for the bureaucracy but also for themselves in order to hold elected persons accountable for their actions?

10. Accountability
Has the candidate indicated that he or she has used input from various groups and a variety of techniques to formulate his or her platform?

Has the candidate expressly indicated his/her willingness to receive feedback on their performance between elections and have they offered specific proposals for how this will be done?

Does the candidate have a track record of encouraging accountability in the past such as actual surveys from people who have worked for him/her, speak out sessions from customers if he/she is in business or public forums if he/she is in public office?

When the candidate has been criticized in the past, either in the media or by groups who do evaluations of politician performance, has this person responded with acceptance and promised correction of legitimate concerns?

Does the candidate give good explanations to defend his/her previous actions or his/her proposed policies or programs?

Adapted from Electing Better Politicians….A Citizen’s Guide written by Charles K. Bens … 12 chapters ranging from Criteria for Measuring All Candidates to Issues by Level of Government; and How to Become a Better Citizen.

Judith Cannon was the Academy Manager of the Academy for Strategic Management, since its inception in March of 1997 to December 2010. Metropolitan Center at Florida International University, [formerly Florida Institute of Government at Florida International University].

Cannon has served as Chairman of the Urban League of Greater Miami; Chairman of the Performance Commission, Metropolitan Dade County Government; and President of the League of Women Voters of Miami-Dade County.

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