Honesty essential for a successful political career
Nettles explains his "green stamp theory": voters respect and support someone who openly supports specific issues, even if that means that the candidate and his or her constituency do not agree on all points. He asserts that honesty is more important than just about anything else.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Bert Nettles, July 13, 1974. Interview A-0015. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
It's an interesting thing that you have a number of green stamps with
your supporters. People who elect you. No one expects you, no reasonable
person-the rank and file I'm speaking of, the general type
voter-doesn't expect you to agree with him 100% of the time.
When you try to convince him that you do, he doesn't believe you and he
begins to doubt you. You lose credibility with them. But as long as he
respects you, you can vote contrary to what he thinks and you can live
with it. I doubt that when I voted like I did . . . the local Republican
leadership . . . . One's a federal judge, who was county chairman, was
my campaign manager for re-election. But he did it heavy hearted,
thinking I had beaten myself. And I could not get re-elected. And it was
a dirty campaign and we had to put out some, bring out some facts on the
other candidate. Previous police record. Many people believe the only
reason I got re-elected was because he had a bad record, the other
candidate did. But I don't think that was it. But the point is, that
people-I found this in my case, certainly true-that
if they think that you are trying to be honest, and that even though
they disagree with you, they're going to support you as long as you, not
on too many issues, don't get too way out. I doubt that a McGovern type
could win in Mobile county, where you just on
almost every issue take a very liberal position. But this is what I call
the green stamp theory. That you've got a member there and you can call
on this one and they'll forgive you for that and go on and work for you
and vote for you and just put you down as being, you know, well, he's,
he just feels strongly on that issue. I'm strongly for ERA. And my
district, no question in my mind but it's strongly opposed to it. 60-40
at the minimum. Probably 75-25. But I don't think . . . . I think that's
not going to be an issue. If it is, I think I can still win with it, in
my particular district. Because . . . as long as people think I'm for,
that I've got a solid basis for voting the way I do and I'm being
consistent and maintaining that credibility. And this is the problem
that Gene McLean had. I suppose he didn't have that basic credibility
over the news media from his record in the legislature. He'd been one of
Wallace's chief supporters in the '71 session. It's interesting.
- JACK BASS:
How would you define your own concept of the role of leadership of
someone in political office?
- BERT NETTLES:
Maintain credibility. I suppose . . .
told me when I got elected . . . best advice I've ever had . . .
was inform yourself the best you can on every issue, major issue and try
to get the best information from both sides. Then vote your conscience.
That's the main thing to do. I don't think people elect . . . . These
computer read outs types, fellows who try to vote exactly the way their
constituents think. They get into a problem then because sometimes you
might misread how your constituents . . . . The Edmund Burke theory of
people elected to legislature, to public office, to deal with problems
in the way they think best, reasonably consistent with the views of the
people whom they represent. It's what I've tried to do. I've made a
number of mistakes and I'm sure we all do. But the
main thing is that you stay in there and keep trying. You're always
available for comment. And that you're not afraid to make decisions. I
find . . . the hottest places in hell surely are reserved, I think, for
those who are afraid to take a stand. I've seen many a legislator
defeated, terribly embarrassed, because he didn't vote on an issue. And
that makes him unpopular with everybody. Or where he refuses to take a
stand right up until the very last and then he has all this pressure
continuing to tear at him and people getting madder than if he had come
out and declared initially. This is the way I feel and this is how I'm
going to vote. I respect your opinions to the contrary. I trust you