I’ve probably had more calls and emails about the Republican gubernatorial primary than any election in my 24 years in state politics. With so many going to the polls early, yet many looking for those last bits of information that will prove decisive in their decision, I wanted to jump ahead of next Friday’s commentary on “stinking thinking” to share two significant considerations for those who want to vote now.
What the Governor Does
It’s easy to think that the governor’s primary responsibility is to “run” the business of the state. But being governor is about more than managing employees, balancing revenues and expenses, and recruiting new businesses and encouraging the expansion of existing ones. Most of the heavy lifting with respect to the details of that work is delegated to various commissioners (the equivalent of a president’s cabinet).
That’s why I want a governor who is strong on public policy. It is the policy that will guide and dictate the management issues that will be carried out by other people.
Why Policy Is So Important
More specifically, I look for a governor who has solid convictions regarding the purpose of civil government and the nature of law itself, which I’ll explain in the next section. But here is one reason those convictions are important and why I think you need to be convinced that those convictions are well established before taking office. Once elected, there’s little room for error and not much time to hone or develop one’s policy convictions.
During the legislative session, the governor is likely to be asked about any number of issues being debated among the legislators and there will be no opportunity to call in a consultant or conduct a poll. If the governor weighs in on that issue, he or she better know what he or she is talking about because what is said could change the direction of the debate or end it, for good or for ill. Mistakes and misstatements are magnified when you control one whole branch of state government.
Judging Policy Convictions
A governor also needs to know how to express his or her policy views in an intelligible, clear way, but do so in a way that does not create unnecessary opposition. At the same time, too many politicians try so hard to be nice and avoid conflict that conviction and firmness is lost.
That is why we asked the gubernatorial candidates to put their answers to some hard, controversial social-issue questions on video.
Let me encourage you to read and note the specifics of the questions that were asked and listen to see if the candidates really answered the question. Also, listen to the way in which they communicated their answer and their demeanor.
As to the convictions I think most important, I want to know, as best I can, what a candidate thinks about two things: the primary purpose of civil government and the nature of law.
What the Purpose of Civil Government Tells Me
As to the former, I look for a candidate who understands that civil government has a limited purpose. It is to promote the general welfare by administering justice, and justice is administered primarily by protecting our lives, property, and liberty through the rule of law.
When these limited things are done and done well, employment opportunities increase, more wealth is created, and my life can get better. But these are by-products of good, limited civil government, not its purpose.
The candidate who wants to use civil government to make my life (and yours) better is one who consciously or unconsciously is taking the place of God, and he or she will surely need god-like power and wisdom to do that. Such a candidate is less likely to protect my life, property, and liberty.
That’s why we asked the candidates about their understanding of government’s primary function, and you can see here how frontrunners Black, Boyd, and Lee answered it. (Harwell chose not to answer the question.)
What Their View of Law Tells Me
This probably sounds a bit abstract, but it’s very important when it comes to the protection of life, liberty, and property. Here’s why.
Tyrannical governments have always tended to arrogate all power to themselves. And Tennessee’s state government is increasingly tyrannical.
If that sounds extreme, it may be because we tend to equate tyranny with persons, not one’s view of law. But persons are tyrannical because of their view of law!
Tyrannical civil governments tend to disregard the proposition that there is any real law outside the positive enactments of civil government and to which their enacted laws are subject and by which those laws are constrained.
As a practical matter, that means they deny that any independent jurisdictional power or authority rests in the individual, the family, or the church. All spheres of life become the subject of and owe their allegiance, rights, and privileges to civil government. To me, this view of law is dangerous to my life, liberty, and property.
How to Judge a Candidate’s View of Law
Getting at this issue is tough, but it best shows up in a candidate’s views regarding marriage and human sexuality.
A candidate who understands that there is a higher law by which civil government’s laws are circumscribed will strongly defend the notion that marriage is between a man and a woman.
If a candidate believes marriage can be whatever civil government says it is, then that candidate has denied that there is any objective, real thing outside of civil government’s pronouncements called marriage. That candidate has denied any jurisdictional limits on civil government’s authority in this regard. That’s why we asked the gubernatorial candidates this question about marriage.
Such a person will also reject the notion that “gender” is purely a social construct, a subjective mental state, or something unrelated to our bodies.
If there is a Creator God, then God ascribes to that which He creates its meaning and purpose, not the person or civil government. A candidate who denies these realities and uses (or allows) the law to obfuscate gender/biological realities denies God-ordained limits to civil government’s jurisdictional authority in relationship to matters of male-female anthropology.
The Republican gubernatorial primary will be very close. I suspect that not more than five or six percentage points will separate the winner from the third-place finisher. Study hard, pray harder, and get out and vote. And if you’re still not sure who to vote for, look for my commentary about “Stinking thinking” on Friday.
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David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.
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