By Sen. Bob Dixon
JEFFERSON CITY — Late one evening, I stepped away from my Senate office into the darkened Capitol corridor. My heavy heart and tired mind were lightened by the sound of the hymn “How Great Though Art” echoing in the halls and coming from the grand piano in the Capitol rotunda. Making my way toward the sound, I discovered a Representative with her hands upon the keys. Despite her own weariness she sat meditating at the piano. In sharing her gift, she lightened the burden of another soul.
This devoted colleague from the House laboring in quiet reflection symbolizes the pureness of purpose most Missouri Legislators bring with them to Jefferson City. Many Representatives and Senators already have a lifetime of public service when they are elected: on city councils, non-profits, PTA’s or charities that help the families of fallen police officers or fighting for their underserved communities.
Recently, a Missouri Representative donated a kidney to save another person’s life. A two-day marathon senate session last week, which included all the midnight hours in between, saw equally devoted, determined and steadfast members reach a decent compromise that will service the public better than the two opposing viewpoints could alone. The process, but more importantly the people involved, worked…. for the people.
As I paused listening to that hymn, and upon later reflection, I was reminded of the importance of sacrifice in public service, and more precisely the importance of principled public servants.
Our government was founded upon the premise of self-governance, and entrusting those amongst us willing to serve to keep our freedom secure.
I realize in these cynical and weary times, it will most certainly run against the common opinion for me to praise the good women and men who serve in the Missouri Legislature. These days, too few realize the sacrifices these principled public servants make.
Legislators travel to Jefferson City for five months to be the voice of all the citizens back home. Some will say, “Five months? That’s an easy job.”
Those who know better will realize legislators spend immeasurable hours studying multiple public policy issues in order to be prepared to cast votes. They spend countless hours at community events so they can listen to their constituents. And, every single legislator sacrifices time that could be spent at other profitable labors, or in the company of their closest loved ones.
Unfortunately, a few who are elected officials act dishonorably; their actions sully the office they have been entrusted to hold. The bad behavior of the few is whispered about, repeated, reported and then amplified until it becomes a burden upon the reputation of all public servants and a stain upon the public fabric.
In the aftermath, some rush to defend the bad actor, and others say, “a plague upon their houses.” Both approaches cause the public to lose faith in the process. I am serving my 16th and final year in the Missouri Legislature, and this loss of faith breaks my heart.
In a just world, only the wrongdoers would bear the burden of their malfeasance. In the real world, more often than not, it is a mark upon us all. Not only is this unfair, it becomes a sickness undermining our confidence in the people and institutions we have created to govern ourselves and to recognize and uphold our freedom.
There remains a cure to this sickness. First, we must be willing to set a high standard for personal ethical behavior. As a corollary, we must stop tearing down people personally with whom we have mere policy disagreements.
Second, principled public servants from amongst our people must continue to take up the burden and serve with integrity, despite all the public negativity, furor and unpopularity of those in elected office, until we once again look upon them with shared respect.
Third, we must each become more grateful for the form of government we have created, and more often pause to say, “Thank you for being principled public servants, and thank you for your sacrifice.”