Sometimes, in this great state of ours, cities and counties cry out for ethics reform. They desire a code of ethics be drafted by someone so that elected officials can subscribe to its provisions. While that’s necessary, the business of ethics is primarily based in the negative — don’t do this, don’t do that, and if we catch you doing anything on this list, you might be crossing a boundary that you can’t come back from.
The city of Odessa, our home, is now clamoring for ethics reform. We love the sister cities of Odessa and Midland; the greater their need, the greater should be our speed.
While I believe in ethics, I suspect what we all want desperately is statesmanship. You might consider statesmanship as the art of public service, while ethics, its constant companion, is more the science of it.
A statesman identifies and upholds a foundation of firm, unchanging, fundamental truths. When the fur starts flying, and in a milieu of slings and arrows, the foundation remains solid. A statesman does not care too much about public opinion polls, but instead makes decisions by following his own moral compass that is rooted in a sense of absolute right and absolute wrong. He can and should, however, try to find common ground that will permit progress to happen.
The statesman doesn’t resemble a blade of grass that follows whichever way the wind blows; rather, he is a solid pillar on whom we can rely to act on principles and values that Odessa says are its own.
He shuns media campaigns, preferring instead the power of the written and spoken word. He is an accomplished orator.
A well-known Texas statesman and Odessa legend, former Attorney General John Ben Shepperd stated:
“We need a lot of men and women who are sold on basic American principles. We need men and women who won’t sacrifice a dot or a dash in the Constitution to get a dollar sign on their personal ledger, who can take the ups and down of life without becoming so concerned with the left and the right that they forget the above and below. We need men and women who’d rather be right than be rich, who’d rather be fair than be famous, who’d rather be honest than be exalted, who’d rather be good than be clever, who’d rather be free than be secure, and who’d rather die on their feet than see their fellow Texans living on their knees. Show me a man with no identifiable stand on a clear-cut issue and I’ll show you a man with no identifiable character of value to his community. You can try so hard to stay away from the pro and the con that you become blind to the right and the wrong.”
The statesman is persevering and ambitious, but will not sacrifice morals or principles for the sake of advancement. He is a person of integrity, a truth teller and a caring leader who employs moral authority.
Our city statesmen and stateswomen have a vision of what Odessa can and should be. They use foresight to look both at the present needs and over the horizon for future requirements. They are justifiably worried about what type of city will be inherited by their children and grandchildren.
A statesman practices civility. When Sarah Palin visited Odessa for a John Ben Shepperd Distinguished Lecture in January of 2015, I interviewed her about civility. She explained the importance of civility this way:
“You learn civility when serving in politics at the local level. This is true because you are serving your friends, your neighbors, and your family at the local level. On a city council, for example, you are working with your friends and neighbors and, whether you agree or disagree on a specific issue, at the end of the day, you are still neighbors. This experience can translate into high levels of service such as state or federal. That’s why I think it’s so important for members of Congress and our president to have served in local government — in order to get things done for the people.”
I and others tire of hearing the phrase, “You raise a family in Midland, but you raise hell in Odessa.” Let’s replace that incorrect and damaging phrase with, “We raise our standards in West Texas.” Odessa must now lead the charge by spearheading ethics reform and learning to practice statesmanship. We’ve already got a lot of politicians. We need a lot more statesmen.
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