“Courage, conviction, purpose and direction; these are all important attributes. But, to legislate conservatively requires also the characteristic of consistency.”
Senator Chris McDaniel has illustrated how courage is connected to a commitment that fully comprehends the outcome of legislative actions. His constituents from Senate District 42 in the Pine Belt that follow him closely know he doesn’t hesitate to place his name among a small handful of others when he feels he must vote a specific way in the Mississippi Senate. As we’ve seen many times, for some legislators, staying on the winning side of the vote tally keeps them from having to explain the reasons for their vote in too much detail.
Chris not only doesn’t mind explaining legislation and why he votes for or against; he relishes the opportunity. He not only speaks to groups in his home district, but he frequently travels to speak to numerous groups across the state.
Chris and I have been friends now for a few years time. In writing a summary last week for a project he and I are working on, I looked back at the calendar and it hit me that a number of years have ticked by.
Two years ago, months after the shameful end of the U.S. Senate race during which Chris had been dishonorably and repeatedly attacked, I received a call from a friend. This friend is a democrat and has worked in Mississippi politics for years. He and I disagree on virtually everything, politically speaking. But he and I have a healthy respect for one another because we each know we get an honest discussion from the other, and usually much to think about.
He was calling because I, alongside Chris, had once again been vilified on some blog or in yet another article of freshly twisted nonsense. This was months after the completion of the legal action regarding the challenge to the senate race results.
It was over. Stinging some, still, yes. But in the past.
At that point, Chris, myself, and Sen. Melanie Sojourner had been working on structural organization of the United Conservatives Fund for several weeks.
“As it turns out, not hiding your principles away, standing behind them, makes it easier to stand up for what’s right no matter the opposition.”
“Hey, man, are you okay,” my friend asked over the phone.
“I’m fine,” I replied.
“You’ve been running at a high rate of speed for a long time, through some tough politics,” he said. “And this level of persistent personal attack is way past what anyone would ever describe as “normal” politics. These guys are looking to bury y’all. It can’t be healthy.”
He was right. The legal actions had long since ceased months before, yet the attacks and crazy stories online from some of these people had slowed only just barely.
“As long as Chris takes the heat, so will I. If they drag me into it, so be it,” I told my friend. “You know, they have to try to bury him. He will forever be a reminder of what’s possible when people come together and challenge the status quo. He will always be a reminder of how low his opponents had to stoop to keep Cochran in office.”
Of course, I had only been pulled into a fraction of the media and online hit pieces by name compared to what Chris himself had dealt with for over a year, and he was hit repeatedly with ads beginning a few weeks after he announced he was running. It rarely let up from that point forward.
I know it was difficult at times for him, his wife and especially his young sons. But I also know Chris McDaniel and his conviction. The ideas, the tenets, the policy positions; they are all based in an historical reality that informs the present. And, as it turns out, not hiding your principles away, standing behind them, makes it easier to stand up for what’s right no matter the opposition.
Courage is a powerful weapon against those who haven’t within themselves the same confidence and are only suited to launch assaults from the shadows. It is said that animals know when you are afraid; I would add to that a coward knows when you are not.
But it’s not just courage that paves the way for bold leadership. While courage is important, it’s not enough without purpose and direction.
It is high character that looks first to the honest purpose and away from personal benefit. The short term sacrifice maybe a great difficulty, but once set in motion and maintained through focused dedication to principle, integrity can be, and often is, recognized by others.
Chris recently received the highest ranking of any Mississippi State Senator from ‘Americans for Prosperity’ for his votes to protect economic freedom in the state. He received a score of 95 from the organizations first ever ‘Economic Freedom Scorecard’ of Mississippi legislators. The scorecard listed a ranking for all legislators in both the house and senate. On the senate side, the rankings were compiled by scoring 27 votes on bills and amendments.
The AFP report was promoted as a comprehensive, objective look at where state leaders stand on advancing economic freedom. Although, I do wonder why votes for new bond debt weren’t also scored, the bills from the most recent legislative session were selected based on the following principles:
- fairer taxes that allow taxpayers to keep more of what they earn;
- spending limited to core functions of government;
- fewer job killing and protectionist regulations; and
- more choice and innovation in education.
The report weighted three votes, for tax relief, for charter schools and against raising the fuel tax, as the most important examples of dedication to economic freedom in the 2016 session. Senator McDaniel scored a perfect score for those three votes.
The AFP top ranking comes only a few months after Chris received the ‘American Conservative Union’s’ most prestigious award. The ACU’s ‘Award for Conservative Excellence’ was given to Chris back in February of this year, following scoring a perfect ACU score of 100 in each of the two previous years.
Courage to stand behind strong conviction. It’s not always easy. I’ve been there as Chris took the political heat for doing it many times. I’ve watched him stand in the well of the senate and speak out against legislation when the wishes of the leadership of his own party were for everyone to stand down, and when few senators would risk going against the party leadership.
Courage, conviction, purpose and direction; these are all important attributes.
But, to legislate conservatively requires also the characteristic of consistency.
So, if you get a chance, tell Chris, congratulations for receiving the awards. However, what I think is most important, and what I’ll be telling him is, thank you. I hope you’ll do that, too.