Dishonest politicians have huge advantages in the political process: they can pick their party and their messaging, and they have significant fundraising advantages. Dishonest politicians work under a quid pro quo, which means large “donors” are really investors. It can take a lot of work and effort on the part of voters to combat these advantages, but voters need to be vigilant in their rejection of dishonest politicians.
Local government positions can be used for personal financial gain, particularly within the real estate and lobbying professions. Candidates are required to disclose any organization in which they are an owner, disclosures.utah.gov reveals a number of local candidates who are partners in real estate companies. This doesn’t mean that all politicians with ties to real estate are self-serving, but there are obvious paths for personal gain. A politician might use their position for gain in a number of ways. If they sit on a city council, they have control over zoning decisions and regulations. A real estate investor/politician could buy up land that is zoned for agricultural or low-density use and then subsequently vote to change the zoning laws to allow for high-density housing. Legislators might vote to spend taxpayer money on new infrastructure such as roads or new water facilities to allow more development near real estate they own. This new infrastructure isn’t necessarily bad--as we continue to “multiply and replenish the earth,” growth and higher density housing is inevitable--but these politicians have both the financial incentives and the influence to dictate where new infrastructure is built. State infrastructure includes, interstate and local highways, mass transit, prisons, an ocean coal port in California, and the inland port, and all of these infrastructure projects have winners and losers. There are also tax incentives provided to certain businesses, like big data centers that buy up a lot of land. Dishonest politicians might choose to steer tax incentives toward businesses in which they are invested or donated to their campaigns, in order to reap the gains from such incentives.
It’s important to realize that all of these real estate developers have partners in construction, law, manufacturing, and other industries. These infrastructures projects are often vital and do promote growth. Building infrastructure is a public good, the responsibility of which belongs to the government. I’m not suggesting we end public infrastructure (I’ll leave that to the libertarians in the comments). I am suggesting that for many politicians, running for office is an investment in their personal finances. They are able to contribute to their campaigns and solicit donations from business partners who will also benefit from these projects. Being able to raise money for advertising is a huge advantage when running for office.
A politician who is running for office for personal gain may not be personally concerned about the hot topic issues that concern many voters. For example, they may not have strong opinions about abortion, gay rights, income inequality, or racial justice. The majority of legislative offices are not in swing districts, so if you are running for the state legislature, you can look at the partisan lean of your district and file to run for the party that is most likely to win. You then adopt a platform that matches your newly adopted party. If you are in a republican-majority district, you might claim to care deeply about abortion and freedom of religion, or about the virtues of small government. But once you are elected, these “values” become less important than the particular policies you intend to pursue. For example, you might tout small government as a candidate, but once elected, choose to expand government reach to suit your needs, like voting to build mass transit stations near specific locations, instead of opposing mass transit as government waste. The same concept might apply to an inland port or new prison. Dishonest politicians are aware that people will forgive these transgressions as long as they also pass laws that appeal to hot-button issues, such as abortion (even if said laws don’t actually stop abortion but rather instead place blame on the federal government).
We can spot self-serving dishonest politicians by their actions. Pay attention not just to what issues they campaign on but also to the bills they sponsor and vote for. State bills are generally easy to read and understand. I recommend you visit the state legislature’s website at le.utah.gov and read the bills for yourself(Last week Utah Republican legislators met and voted on bills is secret and the bills were never made available to the public, or Democratic officials, but *usually* you can read the bills). Once I started actually reading the bills, I was surprised by how much they differed from what politicians in the respective parties claim to believe. The legislation they pass is what really matters, not what they claim to believe in a caucus meeting.
Living in a country that allows us to choose our representatives demands that we understand and judge policy. This is hard. It takes time. But it is worth it. Reach out to your political-savvy friends on both sides and ask them to explain their party’s policies. Think about it, pray about it. Look at the policies your legislators have put forth and vote for the outcomes you support and believe in.