Good Government

5 traits to benefit all Oklahomans

January 12, 2015

Trent England

It is Inauguration Day in Oklahoma. Flags are flying. Statewide officials are being sworn in. News crews with their cameras and bright lights are searching for the best interviews. Tonight there will be receptions and parties. Politics, at least for the winners, can be a lot of fun.

Of course, politics can also be dishonest, dirty, and, to say the least, discouraging. State history (some very recent) is littered with examples. Will this year be any different? It can be. Here are five key leadership traits that, if embraced by state leaders, would benefit all Oklahomans.


Skepticism about government is as American as apple pie. There is a fine line, however, between healthy skepticism and corrosive cynicism. Transparency allows the public to see inside government, to see how it works and make informed judgments about it. This is essential for ongoing accountability and meaningful elections. Transparency is not about eliminating healthy skepticism, but keeping skeptics from becoming cynics.

One example of transparency comes from the State Department of Education, which has worked to make more information more easily accessible to the public. Other state and local agencies should find ways to put information online, which can reduce burdens on both the agency and the public.


While transparency is often a matter of policy or processes, honesty is personal. It starts with fulfilling promises. Republicans face a real challenge this session because, with their overwhelming majorities, they have no excuses left not to deliver on their stated conservative agenda. Of course, honesty is also about living a life that is consistent, which can be a real challenge in politics. Many legislators are about to spend months away from their families, churches, and friends. Such conditions make it easier to make the kind of personal compromises that have led to many a political scandal.


Effective leaders ask good questions, and lots of them. Curiosity will be especially important as legislators write a new state budget. Here are some obvious questions that some Oklahomans are already asking.


George Washington was a passionate man with an explosive temper, but even in the most trying circumstances he rarely lost control. Instead, from an early age and throughout his military and political careers, he worked hard to rise above the fray. He also wanted those around him to become models of civility—he regarded the play, Cato, as particularly virtuous and had it performed for his soldiers at various times.


A leader who strives to uphold the four traits above will, at some point, need courage. It is not easy, sometimes, to be transparent and honest. Asking questions can make people uncomfortable, or angry. Even civility can have a cost, when being shrill is sometimes confused with being principled. And perhaps the most important question for any politician is this: What are those things over which you would be willing to lose your next election?

The elections, the inaugurations—all this is just a beginning. What matters is what comes next: making policy, writing a budget, governing. Amidst all of that, Oklahomans will be well served if their elected leaders hold true to these five traits.