What makes this column especially painful is the need I have to exert some of the small influence I possess to call upon a long time friend Chris Newton, to step down from political office as a Tennessee Representative for his alleged role in this sordid affair. Chris was quoted in the June 6, 2005, Tennessean saying: "You find out who your true friends are during times of tribulations like this." You also find out who your true public servants are as well, Chris. So cancel my Christmas card if you must, but no man is above the law and it is time to put your constituents in front of your self-interest in this case. Your real friends should be telling you that as well. There is therapeutic value in merely being a citizen. Ben Franklin had it right, "In free governments, the rulers are the servants, and the people their superiors and sovereigns. For the former, therefore, to return among the latter [is] not to degrade but to promote them."
In 1994, Chris and I both sought political office, he in the 22nd District, and I in the 24th District. In my opinion, his handgun ad "Welcome Home" was without a doubt the best political ad that year. We had similar themes. We ran on the Jeffersonian principles of limited government, individual responsibility, but mainly upon the concept of citizen legislators. It was Thomas Jefferson who said: "To prevent every danger which might arise to American freedom from continuing too long in office, it is earnestly recommended that we set an obligation on the holder of that office to go out after a certain period."
Chris was always a supporter of term limits and in fact campaigned on them. In 1996 he sponsored legislation that set as a maximum limit of 12 years for state representatives and senators. Since he was elected in 1994, message to Chris, the time to go is now and your time is up anyway. But as I recall he wanted less than 12 years initially. There is something different about the term limited legislator, even self-imposed and the non-term limited legislator. The term limited legislator usually sets out on an agenda to serve the people, whereas the non-term limited legislator looks for the next pork-barrel project to keep getting elected. The sad fact is too many politicians are elected to office and never try to carry out their campaign promises. Political parties can help their candidates create platforms, but they should also serve a role in making sure they enact these pledges.
I have carefully avoided criticism of Chris in the past despite his comfortable existence of influence in predominantly big government circles and his growing absence within the district he was elected to represent. I reasoned somebody has to build bridges to legislative leadership and local folks seem happy. Differences can exist within parties and, as someone who truly believes in a big tent philosophy Chris may be expanding the Republican message of limited government, even if he no longer follows it. But local party leadership has remained too silent. As Tip O'Neal famously said, "All politics are local." Certainly, the closer that politics are to you, the more they affect your daily life.
Then earlier this year, I was surprised by a statement by John Case an official with the respected organization the Tennessee Firearms Association who pointed a finger at Chris in his role in defeating a firearms bill. Chris Newton was subcommittee chair of the strangely named "Constitutional Protections Committee." Case said in his email to Newton: "As best I can tell, you're a liar." I do not know if Chris is a liar or not, but I do believe he has lost the political philosophy that initially guided him. Chris should revisit the enduring words of Lord Acton: "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
The much needed bill would have allowed law abiding citizens with handgun permits to carry their concealed weapon to eat lunch at a restaurant like O'Charley's or Applebees without worrying that the handgun gets stolen out of their parked car by the criminal element of our society, just like citizens in 33 other states. Technically at this point police officers that you see eating in any establishment that serves alcohol in Tennessee are breaking the law. They are off duty and there are no exceptions allowed for under current statutes. Political Strategist Raymond Baker added: "I don't think we can ever be ready for leadership until we clean up our own backyard by beating these RINO's." I was shocked that a Republican was anti-gun. In the immortal words of one People News reader: "Trusting politicians with our gun rights is like trusting a 5 year old with matches not to burn down a barn full of hay."
I like Chris Newton. People should pray for him and support him on a personal level, and maybe we are no longer friends in his book. But only a true friend would tell Chris Newton that the time has come for him to step down before he is either removed for ethics violations by his colleagues or his constituents. Everyday he remains as a Tennessee Representative is an insult to the hard working people who elected him and those he serves whether he is guilty or not. His leadership is effectively over. And that is a clear breach of trust. It is clear Chris has moved far away from the Jefferson principles we campaigned on in 1994. He has also forgotten what Ronald Reagan said of his administration: [I] "hope we have once again reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There's a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: As government expands, liberty contracts."
Tennessee Waltz was proof that while our system is made up of flawed people and that the system worked. I have no idea whether Chris is guilty or innocent and a jury of his peers will ultimately decide his fate. However, if he is guilty his "tribulations" have just begun. Maybe the words of another Tennessean, Andrew Jackson, still ring true: "There are perhaps few men who can for any great length of time enjoy office and power, without more or less being under the influence of feelings unfavorable to the faithful discharge of their public duties. Their integrity may be proof against improper considerations immediately addressed to themselves; but they are apt to acquire a habit of looking with indifference upon the public interest, and of tolerating conduct from which an unpracticed man would revolt. Office is considered a species of property; and government, rather as a means of promoting individual interests, than as an instrument created solely for the service of the people."
We have reflected, we have been reminded and we must pass along the political torch to the next generation perhaps sooner than we thought. It is our lifetime of preparation which we must endeavor to talk straight, think straight and pass along both our history and political heritage. If we fail to have the will and courage to face up to those who will corrupt and damage our system the legacy we leave will be as damaging to our political system as the hurricane winds that bring unwanted destruction. Before long nothing will be left standing. There is nothing holy about that.
--J. C. Bowman is a public policy analyst who resides in Tallahassee, Florida.
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