Note to reader: A few months ago, I received a phone call from my county sheriff. He asked me to run for county commissioner here in Osage County, Oklahoma. I said yes, and as a result, the floodgates immediately opened from both friend and foe asking, “Why in the world would a former university president want to be a county commission? You’re overqualified. Why aren’t you running for ‘higher office?’” Well, here’s my answer. Perhaps you’ll find it helpful.
My entire career was in the academy. For 40 years, I served in various leadership roles culminating in close to 20 years as the president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University. As a conservative academic (a very rare and nearly extinct animal), I caught the attention of some political king-makers who asked me several times to consider running for various offices at the state and federal levels. I repeatedly said no. I told them I had zero interest.
Frankly, nothing about the political arena seemed attractive to me. The campaigning. The self-promotion. The inevitable conflict of pitting one group against another. The gossip. The rumors. The lies. No, I wanted none of this, and I wisely dodged all overtures as if they were the plague until this past November when I received a phone call asking me to run for local office.
So, the obvious question is, why? Why would a guy who’s been a successful university president and been asked to run for Congress, the Senate, and various other federal and state level positions want to be a county commissioner?
The first answer is, I don’t, and as politically ill-advised as it is to admit this, I don’t mind saying so.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout my administrative career, it’s this: There’s a big difference between someone who wants a title and someone who is willing to serve. The best person is nearly always the latter and not the former. As a sagely old mentor of mine once told me, “The leader you want is the one who doesn’t want the job.” Being willing to serve your neighbor is always a much higher call than wanting something for yourself. When someone says they really want to be a senator, a congressman, a governor or even a county commissioner, be leery. Look for the guy willing to do it even when he doesn’t want to. This is almost always the right guy for the job.
The second answer is a bit deeper. I’m running for county commissioner rather than Congress because I think local government matters. In fact, I’d argue it is a “higher” calling than what many call a “higher” office.
Local control and local responsibility are the cornerstones of our constitutional republic. It is said that President George Washington cited Micah 4:4 over 50 different times in his correspondence with his peers during our country’s founding era. “Each man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and shall not be afraid.” What was our Founding Father’s point? It’s your “vine” and your “fig tree” — your ranch. Your house. Your fence. Your property. Your village. Your county — and local government is where your freedom is born and preserved. We need not “be afraid” of losing our liberty if we elect leaders at the local level who understand this.
So, I’m not running for state or federal office, first, because I don’t want to, but second, I’m not running for “higher office” because I believe freedom starts on the farm.
Liberty is local. Legislation from afar always results in more laws and less liberty. As G.K. Chesterton told us, “Representative government cannot be remote.” If we don’t fix things locally, all our efforts at the state and federal levels are dust in the wind. Liberty starts at home. Our freedoms are lost if we don’t have local leaders who understand that their job is to serve and leave us alone.
The bottom line is this: If we don’t get our local act together, the American experiment will go the way of the dodo bird. We’ve got it backward. We’re throwing all our money and attention at Washington and Oklahoma City while our backyard burns. We must get our local house in order. This is the heart and soul of our founders’ system of government.
Os Guinness taught me at the Oxford Center for Christian Apologetics when I studied under him that good government is always bottom up. It’s never top-down. “If you want freedom,” he said, “always vote for the covenant. Never vote for the hierarchy.” Hierarchies are about power and control. Covenants are about honoring your neighbor, minding your own business, and keeping your word.
“The Founding Fathers understood that only by making government the servant, not the master, only by positing sovereignty in the People and not the state can we hope to protect freedom.” — Ronald Reagan
• Everett Piper (dreverettpiper.com, @dreverettpiper), a columnist for The Washington Times, is a former university president and radio host.
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