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Ethics: The Foundation of Our Political System


By Sen. David Sater

The idea of a representative democracy, or a Republic, is a simple one. Public servants, elected by a group of citizens, direct public policy and government based on the morals, values, and interests of those citizens. Second and no less important is that those elected officials exercise the authority of their offices according to the Rule of Law. Simply put, elected officials work for the people and are subject to the law.

Our Founding Fathers envisioned our representative democracy as a way to secure the rights of all citizens, ensure that power was shared through a system of checks and balances, and to value and reward talent, initiative and hard work above one’s blood lines or family connections. Our Founders believed this to be so important that they risked their lives for it so we could enjoy the freedoms and liberties we have and so our children and grandchildren could, too. 

Somewhere along the way, though, our political system veered off the tracks. Some elected officials began listening to influences other than the people who elected them, while others began to look at the law as something to work around or manipulate instead of respect and cherish. Electing someone to represent you in Washington, D.C., or Jefferson City must be based on trust. That person must understand and respect the value of ethics, of doing what is right when no one is watching or doing what is unpopular to the Washington or Jefferson City crowd, but right for your constituents. Yes, constituents can track their elected officials’ voting records and they can read in the paper or watch the news to see what he or she is saying about this issue or another. What is really important, though, is what he or she is doing when the cameras are off and no one is there looking over his or her shoulder.  Are they asking themselves the right questions like, “Is this the right thing to do?” or “What would my constituents want me to do?” Those questions should be more than a guiding principle but the reason an elected official seeks office or goes to work for the people.

I can still remember when I made the decision to go into public service and run for the Missouri House of Representatives. As a business owner, I was so fed up with how our government did things and how it seemed like they wanted to make it as difficult as possible for me to pay my employees an honest day’s wage and, in the end, find a way to pay myself and keep the lights on. I complained about a lot of things to a lot of people until one day, someone finally asked me, “What are you going to do about it?” That’s a pretty good question, don’t you think? So, I thought about it and decided that it wasn’t enough that I expect something to happen. I needed to make something happen.

Doing the right thing doesn’t just happen; you have to make it happen. Our system can still get back on track. It just requires elected officials with the right ethics, a respect for the law and a citizenry ready to hold them accountable. We can and should take the appropriate steps to limit outside influence on our system and restore public trust.

As for me, I will remember who elected me and why I have the privilege of serving in the Missouri Senate. The values, morals, and beliefs of the people of the 29th District will inform my decisions and my votes and I will remain committed to my oath to defend the U.S. and Missouri Constitutions.