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Reflection Before Action

November 23, 2015

By: Stephen Waguespack

Thankfully, the 2015 election season is finally over. After six months of attack ads and sound bites filled with personal accusations and character assassinations, we can move on as a state and get to work on the issues at hand.

Governor-Elect John Bel Edwards accomplished what was once thought to be impossible by breaking the trend and winning a governor’s race in the South as a Democrat. He started with a big lead on the night of the primary and never looked back. It was an impressive effort.

The next two months will move quickly for the governor-elect as he transitions from candidate to Louisiana’s CEO seemingly overnight. I know firsthand how challenging the transition from one administration to another can be.

January’s inauguration will quickly make way for a monumental special session to tackle Louisiana’s chronic budget deficits and the decisions made in that moment will affect our state for years to come. It is critical for that legislative session to be as effective as possible and all stakeholders, across the political spectrum, should work together to put the needs of the state before all others.

While preparing for that moment is paramount, it is also useful to briefly reflect on the lessons learned from this campaign. U.S. Sen. David Vitter lost the election by 12 points, a staggering sum for an incumbent that had never lost an election until this moment. The race began as a referendum on his well-chronicled personal issues and polarizing approach and he was never able to change that topic. The voters were dialed in on those issues and did not budge.

Louisianans elected the more conservative candidates in the other two statewide races, providing clear evidence that the voters have not drifted more liberal…. but they have clearly drifted away from Sen. Vitter. So much so, he announced Saturday night that he will not seek re-election next year to his Senate seat, a wise and statesman-like decision.

Many conservatives are now questioning the lessons learned from these events and pondering where to go from here. Numerous pundits will chime in with their own perspective, but here are a few of my thoughts for my fellow conservatives:

Character matters. The voters clearly made character a top priority. The electorate wants to like the individual as much as they like the positions taken. The age of social media has put everyone’s personality, families and yes, even secrets, out in the open. Skeletons don’t live in a closet any more. Voters are looking for leaders who are sincere and trustworthy.

Voters are hungry for a plan. Since the election of President Obama, conservatives have chosen to largely run by articulating what they oppose. Opposing Obama is not a plan. Opposing liberal economic and social policy, unfunded mandates and big government are positions, not a plan. Conservatives need to articulate what they stand for and explain it in ways that bring people together rather than drive them apart. Conservative policies can elevate individuals, better educate the poor through choice and empowerment, help restore family values to a society in desperate need of healing and reform government to make it more effective and efficient. This is what the voters need and rightly expect to hear.

We need both conviction and consensus. It is not a character flaw to listen to others, hear their arguments, debate them in a respectful way and seek consensus when appropriate. Leaders should be able to honor their principles without alienating others. Conservatives can stand with conviction without losing their civility. Being open to a compromise doesn’t mean compromising your integrity or political beliefs.

Conservatives should unite around shared values. Conservatives have fallen into the trap of showing they are a true conservative solely by undermining others in the same movement. Oftentimes, the rivalries are unnecessarily personal. Fiscal hawks, moderate republicans, the tea party, social conservatives and economic conservatives aggressively battle each other in the media at times. Do you see liberal factions fighting in public like this? They seem to debate amongst themselves in a way that doesn’t hurt their chances for electoral success. It’s time to develop a way for these conservative quarrels, though sometimes necessary, to occur without escalating into full-fledged war, leaving self-inflicted wounds amongst allies.

It’s time to inspire rather than incite. President Ronald Reagan articulated his policies by talking about a “City on a Hill.” This approach painted a vision for the American people as to where he wanted to take the country. They understood the goal and therefore supported the plan to get there. Americans love aspiration and believing in the power of freedom and liberty. Conservatives were once the movement of hope and change, but now it seems more focused on anger and criticism. We need to define that City on a Hill and return to our aspirational roots.

One day, it will be appropriate to dig deeper on how this election was won and lost and analyze the impact it will have on Louisiana for years to come. But it’s Monday morning, and the reality is that it’s time for action. The election is over and it is time to govern. The issues are too great and time is of the essence. We have much work to do to help our great state reach its potential. It’s time to get to work.