Lead Like Lincoln: What a Voter Wants

Dear Newly-Elected (and Re-elected) Officials,

Let me be the first to congratulate you today, about 11 hours before the polls close. I’m writing now because tonight you’ll be flush with victory and unable to focus. I need you to focus. This is important. I’ve prepared a job description for you.

You likely have no idea what you’ve signed up for and I must admit the burden of serving the public will be considerable, but someone’s gotta do it. I’m glad you stepped up. Thanks in advance.

Thanks to re-elected officials too. Some of you have worked hard to stay true to your vision (and to our wishes).  Some of you were retained because of that (and some of you lost because of that). That happens.

Here’s your job in a nutshell. Take off the crown and get to work. Keep this handy for frequent reference and guidance. You’ve got a hard job, but don’t cut corners. We’ll be watching.

1. Plan for the future. Failure to plan is a plan to fail – think malpractice. Be bold and courageous – don’t let bullies and thugs push you around. Work together in unity, using all the tools available. Tackle growth and development, transportation and transit, public health, housing, economic development, public safety, ag land presevation, and lots more in a balanced way. If plans don’t work, rewrite them together.

2. Listen to each other and listen to all of us. We don’t elect kings or dictators. We know you are buffeted by competing interests, but don’t cop an attitude or retreat into a bunker. Don’t bow to cronies and well-funded, influential interests. Listen to everyone respectfully and with an open mind and then do the right thing.

3. Show up humbly, with your best self. We didn’t elect any of you to pontificate endlessly, make fun of those with whom you disagree, and inflict partisan talking points – R or D – on this weary and divided populace. Delve deeply into the issues. Understand how your decisions impact everyone’s well-being. Make wise decisions based on current information. Don’t throw staff under the bus – take responsibility – but by the same token, we elected you to drive the bus. Don’t abdicate your responsibility or let it be taken from you.

4. Do your homework. Dive in. Immerse yourselves. Read your agency’s planning documents and envision how those policies are and will be applied. Revise them, when necessary. Many times leaders fail to understand how their votes impact us in every area – from public safety to health to traffic to our wallets. And, very important, stick to well-thought out policies that safeguard private property rights, take care of people, address issues, and build safe, prosperous, healthy, and inclusive communities. Balance, balance, balance.

5. Play well together with integrity and highly ethical behavior. We don’t want to learn that you’ve broken this or that agreement with each other, sued each other, or broken the law. Ethics, ethics, ethics. If we learn that you’ve brought us more of the past patterns of dysfunction – bickering and finger-pointing – it will not only be disappointing, we’ll likely make changes.

6. Understand your role, responsibilities and limitations. Idaho law gives authority to governments to accomplish that which is expressly granted by the Legislature, not what isn’t prohibited. If you want to expand your agency’s authority and responsibility, work to legislate it.

7. Be fiscally prudent (but do what must be done). We work extremely hard to earn the tax dollars we relinquish to you. Respect that. Realize that everything you want to accomplish comes at a price. Be equitable and perform your responsibilities to provide services, yes, but don’t regard our wallets as yours.

8. Communicate with us. Explain your actions.  This one could be combined with listening, above. Include us. Respond to us whether you agree with us or not. We most times can abide with being told no if we understand the things you factored into your decision and believe you truly evaluated our interests. We won’t like it, but we will trust you.

9. Govern wisely. Do what’s right. The election is over and while your affiliation may have helped convince a sufficient number of voters, please demonstrate your ability to govern. Leave partisan divisions behind now. Governing should bear little resemblance to running for office or being a gladiator. Remember, leaders lead those with whom they agree and those with whom they don’t.

10. Don’t die on every mountain. Be a statesman. Figure out your non-negotiables and identify nice-but-not-necessary actions. Be prepared to help others accomplish necessary things that don’t run contrary to your non-negotiables. Sometimes preserving your relationships with your colleagues is a winning strategy. Sometimes losing  leads to winning when it really counts. 

And these are some very important other duties as assigned:

Have thick skin – you’ll need it. A politician’s Achilles heel is overweening hubris. Be compassionate. You have not been coronated, but have been given a great privilege to lead. It will require much more than you dream, much more than you know.

In short, lead like Abraham Lincoln did. With intelligence and integrity. Don’t squander your opportunity to do great things. Don’t pass the buck if it’s within your authority to do something meaningful that solves thorny problems. Look to address and solve problems in innovative ways. Be willing to change the way it’s always been done. Be brave. Be bold. Be loyal to the honor granted to you by the voters. 

Thank you for stepping up. Now buckle your seat belt. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Sincerely, Your Constituent


  1. Excellent article, Teri! Yes, article. Why don’t you make a few changes to make it more generic and send it to major newspapers right away?! Yes, it’s THAT good and yes, I’m a democrat 😉


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