Principles and actions mean more than Jeff Flake’s words
© Greg Nash

By definition, calculating politicians frequently use words that reflect a popular point of view with the intent to attract the attention of voters and the media. And, all too frequently, these same politicians fail to follow through with the actions required to back up those words. They are quick to criticize unpopular statements and quick to agree with problems Americans identify, but rarely do they stand up and deliver the change Americans want.

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeRepublicans think Trump is losing trade war On Trump and DOJ, both liberals and conservatives are missing the point Pressure rising on GOP after Trump–DOJ fight’s latest turn MORE (R-Ariz.) just released a book filled with good-sounding words. Some even called them “courageous.” He criticized his Republican Party and said it was in denial about Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpRed states find there’s no free pass on Medicaid changes from Trump Trump meets with Moon in crucial moment for Korea summit The Memo: Trump flirts with constitutional crisis MORE. I agree with Flake’s perspective that his Republican Party’s thirst for power legitimized the likes of Trump. I greatly appreciate a Republican willing to point out that Trump’s approach represents a threat to our democracy. But, criticism and rhetoric are poor substitutes for action.

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Principles matter and actions, not words, reflect true intentions. Being critical of your political party when it is popular to be critical is not courageous. It takes courage to follow the criticism with action. Speeches are easy to make but it takes courage to take a principled stand and vote against policies that are harmful, even if one’s own political future is in jeopardy.

Sen. Flake has received much attention for his recent words. However, when close attention is paid to Flake’s actions by way of his voting record, it is clear he is enabling the agenda of the very man he claims is ruining the Republican Party. Vote after vote, nearly 100 percent of the time, Flake backs Trump’s agenda. And not just on “personnel votes” as he attempted to obfuscate when asked about his record by Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press". Flake voted with Trump on the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and supported the amendment by Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzPoll: Cruz leads O'Rourke by 7 points Freedom Caucus bruised but unbowed in GOP primary fights Five races to watch in the Texas runoffs MORE (R-Texas) to eliminate the rule that pre-existing conditions could not be used to deny health coverage, both of which would have been devastating for Arizonans. Flake even tried to lobby Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainOvernight Defense: Pompeo lays out new Iran terms | Pentagon hints at more aggressive posture against Iran | House, Senate move on defense bill Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA Sarah Sanders: ‘Democrats are losing their war against women in the Trump administration’ MORE (Ariz.) to vote with Trump and the Republican leadership.

Ahead of that TrumpCare vote, Arizona Republic columnist E.J. Montini wrote a column entitled “Jeff Flake’s dilemma – Save his political life or real lives.” I’m a trauma surgeon and not a Washington politician, so the premise of that dilemma was, for me, puzzling. Saving real lives is, of course, the easy choice. Flake chose the Trump agenda.

Flake has received attention for his words before. And, once again, he failed to follow through with action. In early 2013, a newly-elected Sen. Jeff Flake wrote to Caren Teves, mother of Aurora mass shooting victim Alex Teves, and told her that strengthening background checks for firearms was something she and he agreed on. He then followed those popular and sensible words with a vote against the bipartisan background check compromise brokered by Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinBlankenship third-party bid worries Senate GOP Overnight Energy: Feds eye rolling back Alaska wildlife rule | Park service releases climate report | Paper mills blamed for water contamination | Blankenship plans third-party Senate run The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Frenzy over Kennedy retirement rumors | Trump challenges DOJ MORE (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) – even after being urged to support the measure by his friend and gun violence survivor, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).

I readily give credit to Flake for having good manners, being willing to meet with those with whom he both agrees and disagrees, and for, at times, saying the right thing. But time and again he does the wrong thing. Words are nice but actions solve problems.

Perhaps Flake deserves credit for being a deft politician. Some might call that slick or say that represents the worst of Washington – a politician who says one thing and does another. I, for one, do not believe he deserves credit for empty words without the courage to follow through with principled action.  

We need to see more real courage from our representatives and senators in Washington. And a lot more principled action. Arizonans deserve that.

State Rep. Randy Friese, M.D. is a trauma and critical care surgeon in Tucson, Ariz. who operated on and cared for Rep. Gabby Giffords, Ron BarberRonald (Ron) Sylvester BarberPrinciples and actions mean more than Jeff Flake’s words Giffords to lawmakers avoiding town halls: 'Have some courage' Ten House seats Dems hope Trump will tilt MORE, and other victims of the Jan. 8, 2011 Tucson shooting. He’s the assistant Democratic leader in the Arizona State House and a U.S. Navy veteran.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.