I am blessed to serve as the Place 2 City Councilman on the College Station City Council.
This blog will host updates related to my job as a councilman, as well as my thoughts on important issues related to our city. I will also use this as a feedback mechanism to obtain feedback from our citizens regarding questions of policy.
Philosophy of Governance
I believe that it is important to have a philosophy of what the role of government is so that, as an elected official, I do not simply vote on the basis of my own whims and desires. Without a firm idea of how government should exercise its powers, it is possible to fall into the trap of thinking that my ideas are worth using government to implement. Because I do not believe it is my role to force my own ideas upon others, I maintain a philosophy of governance that helps to guide my votes as a councilman.
My philosophy of governance is simple: government serves primarily to preserve the rights of our citizens and to provide essential, core services for the benefit of the citizenry. To that end, government should be limited to those roles which are appropriate and proper. When I feel that a policy or law violates these principles, then I vote against it. I robustly support any effort to improve our essential public services, particularly police, fire, and core infrastructure. I also support some efforts to prevent and restrict the effects of externalities, which are imposed negative effects by some property owners upon others, so long as the restrictions themselves do not create more harm than they prevent.
Tests That I Apply to My Votes
There are three tests that I feel must be applied by any elected official in our country when considering a policy or law:
1. Is it Constitutional? We are incredibly blessed to live in a country where the natural rights of our citizens are inscribed in a lasting document called the Constitution. Before the Constitution, no written standard of the rule of law existed in the world to protect the rights of individuals and recognize individual sovereignty. No law should be passed in the United States which is not first checked for its adherence to the Constitution. The Constitution is very clear via the 10th amendment that non-enumerated powers are “reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” This therefore means that local policies are almost always constitutional, and therefore this test is easily passed for municipal issues. That said, the due process clause of the 14th amendment has been applied by the Supreme Court to incorporate the Bill of Rights to states and local governments. Therefore, if something on a local level were to violate the protections of the Bill of Rights, it could potentially be considered unconstitutional. Similarly, we would not wish to apply a state mandate which could potentially be unconstitutional. As mentioned, local policies are almost always constitutional, so this is mostly a moot point, though still something to be aware of.
2. Is it morally right? I do not seek to impose my moral values upon others, but I do feel that certain moral principles must be respected when government policy is created. First and foremost, laws should not restrict the natural rights of the citizens. This is to say that no law should impinge upon an individual’s inherent, natural rights: specifically, an individual’s life, liberty, or right to his property. Therefore, when I say “morally right” I do not mean that government should impose particulars of values upon people, but should instead respect the natural rights of our citizens and the idea that individuals are sovereign. The government violates an individual’s property rights if it takes money from them to use for some expenditure which is not clearly for the benefit of the public, and within the proper role of government, because it takes from the product of that individual’s labor and efforts, his money. If this is not done for a just reason, it is not right. Government cannot simply take money to use for whatever it wants; it needs to use taxes for public services of great importance that carry the general consent of the citizens.
Another moral principle that must be respected is ensuring the government’s proper use of force. Governments can only tax, regulate, or do anything else via the use of force, because there is no other way that government ensures laws are followed. It is absolutely proper for government to use force to ensure that laws are followed, so long as the laws themselves are proper. But this is the challenge: the laws we pass must be done in consideration of the fact that they will be enforced against individuals via the use of force, and therefore we should not take this lightly. We must exert great caution in passing laws so that the force of law is applied properly, and only where necessary.
3. Are there unintended consequences? Many, many laws, programs, and projects have unintended consequences; that is, they create effects that they are not supposed to create. Sometimes these consequences are the very opposite of what consequences the law or program is intended to provide for! That means that elected officials should always consider the consequences of their policies, both in the short and the long term. If money spent on a program is supposed to do something, is there any chance it will do something else entirely? Or perhaps, if a program will to some extent have its intended effect, might it also have side effects? Governments tend to think too little about the actual consequences of policies in favor of painting rosy pictures about what will occur when a law is passed. A program that is intended to do X is often justified by its intentions alone. Yet we cannot simply look to the intentions of policies; to the extent that it is possible, we must consider what actual consequences the policy might have.
These three tests I apply to every vote I take. I am certainly imperfect, but I do my very best to ensure that I follow the principles that I strongly believe in.