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Herbert A. Opalek: What to look for in local leaders?

Herb Opalek

One often hears that the term honest politician is an oxymoron.

Indeed, the question is often asked, "did you hear about the honest politician?"

And, of course, the answer is "No and neither did anyone else."

It is quite difficult being an honest politician.

During these tough economic times, most people do not want to hear more bad news from our elected officials.

It is also axiomatic that many an elected official wins office by promising more than they can possibly deliver. They know that they can always blame the county, the state and the federal government when they can't get their pet projects through.

This makes them look like underdogs and warriors for the public good to their supporters, an image they assiduously cultivate.

In recent weeks, the Illinois has emerged as a state where honest politicians seem to be scarce. Both the now impeached governor and recently appointed junior senator are hardly paragons of ethics and political probity.

We are fortunate in Merced that our politicians seem to hold a higher standard.

Of course, if we find that they do not live up to our expectations, there is always the ballot box.

In the next months, the political races that are endemic to our societal life will begin to heat up.

There will be a mayoral race in Merced and I believe that one or more supervisor positions will be contested in the county.

What should we look for in our elected political leaders?

There has never been a greater need for vox populi or the voice of the people than there is in the here and now.

Too early, you say. There are months ahead of us before decisions need to be made. Why discuss this now?

I say it is not too early, and there are politicians in Greater Merced deciding what to do and what position to run for. If they are readying their campaigns, should we not be thinking of what we want and need in our cities and county?

Should we vote mostly by "what is in it for me" in what the politicians promise?

Are we driven more by group interests of our community, town or are we motivated by special interests?

Are we deciding based on altruism and how a leader reflects our own ideals and principles and how much we trust him?

What are the value concepts that we want to be governed by?

For example, will we desire a dominant, assertive ambitious personality type and someone who likes conflict and aggression as our next mayor?

Is a more inspiring and persuasive personality more attractive as our leader? Should we find a leader who is of great character, with carefully considered and well thought out and clearly stated opinions?

Are we keen on someone who is reflective and caring about citizen's personal aspirations, individually, and for our city?

Are we at all attracted to politicians who are insightful, wise with relevant knowledge, experience, and one who is skilled at adaptive governing in these rapidly changing times?

Or are we all about choosing a leader who is pure hardball politics where winning isn't everything, it's the only thing.

Do we like leaders who see it all as a game where personal pride and power dominate?

Do we seek out and choose a "win-at-any-cost" kind of politician and do we see any other more collaborative and inclusive approaches in leadership as weakness?

I would hope that there is a lot more going on in our minds when we sit down and evaluate the leadership potential and skills of Merced's political leaders.

In order to grow Merced, we need to dig deeper into those larger and more meaningful questions about ethics and character; as we seriously consider consenting to be governed.

We need to consider the bigger questions and seek a deeper understanding of what we want our political decision makers to stand for

When seeking an honest, effectual, and moral politician, I am guided by what may seem to many people an obscure scriptural reference. Ezekiel 13.10-16 in part reads, "When a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, therefore tell those who cover it with whitewash that it is going to fall ... When it falls, you will be destroyed in it ... So I will spend my wrath against the wall and against those who covered it with whitewash. I will say to you, 'The wall is gone, and so are those who whitewashed it.'"

With issues like the budget, homelessness, Wal-Mart, and the like on the table I say woe is us if we support those who whitewash these issues to meet their personal good rather that that of our community.

I hope you agree.

Herbert A. Opalek is CEO of the Merced County Rescue Mission. He writes a column every other Saturday.