When Your Word Is Your Bond

Legislators and lobbyists live in a world where you are only as good as your word.In church yesterday, there was an interesting illustration in the lead pastor's sermon.  

To illustrate the importance of "your word is your bond," the pastor described the situation in 1988 when then presidential candidate George H. W. Bush beat the Democrat, Michael Dukakis, at least in part, because he uttered the words, "Read my lips... no new taxes." Then four years later, those words came back to haunt President Bush when his challenger, Bill Clinton, pointed out that he hadn't lived up to his promise.

The pastor drew spiritual lessons revolving around honesty, integrity and trust, but after hearing the sermon, my thoughts went to the application of the "your word is your bond" ethic at the Capitol in Salem where I have spent the last 30 years lobbying legislators.

On the basis of that experience, I would say that living up to the phrase was what set apart legislators and lobbyists alike. If their word was their bond, you could trust them. If not, trust broke down and it was more difficult to find middle ground on tough public policy issues.  

I have known a number of legislators over the years who have practiced that level of integrity in Salem, perhaps more in the past than currently. Here are just four examples of legislators you can count on today.

         *  You always can trust the word of Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, who first won election in 2006 and has steadily moved up in leadership ranks in the House. Today, he holds key positions on the Joint Ways and Means Committee. If he says something, count on it.

         *  Rep. Tobias Read, D-Beaverton, also practices the "word is your bond" ethic. He has told me to alert him if I ever think he has not been worthy of that phrase — and I have never done so.

         *  The same could be said of Senator Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose. The daughter of an influential Oregon political family, Johnson always has earned a level of trust from lobbyists because you can bank on what she says. If she has to change her mind — a reality which happens at the Capitol — you'll hear it from her, not from a third party. That's critical in the leadership role she plays on Ways and Means.

         *  Or consider Senator Fred Girod, R-Stayton. A veteran of the House and Senate, the self-described conservative Girod serves on Ways and Means and the Senate Business & Transportation Committee. In both cases, he doesn't tell lobbyists what they want to hear — he tells them where he stands.

The "word is your bond" ethic is critical, even as legislators push toward adjournment later this week. If it exists, adjournment will be easier. If it does not, adjournment will be a far rockier road.


         The author, CFM partner Dave Fiskum, has watched the "your word is your bond" practices during his 30 years at the Capitol.  About himself, he would say he tries to live by that code.