Making hard decisions is, well, hard. I have yet to meet the person who enjoys making difficult choices. Unfortunately, life sometimes requires us to make tough calls.
The economic realities of the last four or five years have forced many of us to make more tough choices than usual. Some business owners have had to fire loyal, long time employees because the business no longer generated enough money to pay them. Some mothers have had to tell their daughters that they could not buy the senior yearbook or get a prom dress because Mr. Smith had to lay dad off. Some pastors have had to tell the family who attends church every Sunday and needs help paying rent or buying food that the church could not help because giving was down. As painful as it is to receive the news that you have been laid off or have to disappoint your kids or no one can help in your time of need, it is equally painful to be the one who has to make the difficult decision that results in this news.
Leaders do what has to be done for the good of the whole. If that means making a tough, unpopular decision, a leader will do it -- even if it pains him or her personally.
Government at all levels is faced with difficult decisions right now. However, many of our elected leaders resist making tough calls. Rather, they tend toward popular decisions. Since elections have in many ways become referenda on popularity rather than effectiveness and results, the incentive to tend towards popular decisions is obvious. Everybody loves it when the right decision is also popular, but that is more the exception than the rule.
You do not have to believe me; just watch. It is astounding how politically courageous an elected official becomes when he or she no longer has to stand for re-election. Senator Saxby Chambliss announced Friday that he would not seek re-election. It retrospect, we could see that coming considering his leadership on the bipartisan Gang of Six budget proposal.
President Obama is taking on the NRA. I agree with a lot of the gun control policy he is proposing. I also realize that a large part of his ability to be as aggressive as he is being on the issue comes from the fact that he no longer has to stand for election.
So when Mayor Tomlinson advanced the idea of reforming Columbus' property tax structure in her State of the City address this week, it was noteworthy not only because the issue is controversial, but also because she has to stand for re-election in two years. Five of the city councilors being asked to consider the issue will be standing for reelection in 2014 as well.
If the decision in this matter comes down to being popular, then I suggest the outcome may already be decided.
But, if like so many leaders have done in other sectors of our community, our mayor and city council take the position that the decision that most benefits the whole in this case may be unpopular -- or appear unpopular at first -- they may move us another step down the road to rethinking the way voters evaluate those who represent them.
Karl Douglass, Columbus native and resident, is a frequent commenter on local, state and federal politics. Follow him on Twitter@KarlDouglass or facebook.com/karldouglass.