Running for Liberty and Virtue: Much Is at Stake in Michigan in 2006

Most candidates for the U.S. Senate are leading officeholders or wealthy businessmen. Attempting to break the mold is Michigan’s Gerald Zandstra.

Jerry, a longtime personal friend, is an ordained minister, think tank executive and real estate entrepreneur. He’s the perfect candidate for voters who want to live in a free society, but who also want people to exercise their freedom responsibly.

Jerry’s target is Debbie Stabenow, a conventional liberal who narrowly defeated Spencer Abraham in 2000. Republicans are attempting to recruit a name candidate, so far without success.

An affable 41 year-old, Jerry is first a good husband, father and neighbor. He has been pastoring churches since 1989. Ordained by the Christian Reformed Church, Jerry has long worked in an ecumenical environment.

He will soon add a doctorate in Public Administration to a Doctor of Ministry. He has taught at university and over the last five years has been director of programs for the Acton Institute.

Acton promotes a society that is both free and virtuous and has achieved a high national profile in the policy world.

Jerry articulated three themes when he announced in May:

Economic competitiveness, moral culture and international engagement.

First, to be competitive in today’s global economy he pointed to the need for tax reform, limits on frivolous litigation and improved education. For instance, he noted that educational reform "isn’t about teachers’ unions," but "is about the choices parents have available to them for the sake of the future of their children, state, and nation."

Second, he advocated "a culture that respects life and doesn’t cheapen it, make it an inconvenience, or a commodity."

Jerry went beyond such issues as abortion and pointed to the need for people to live virtuously, "upholding our responsibilities in our communities, our neighborhoods, and our churches." This applies to businessmen too, he emphasized.

Third, we cannot escape the world. Protectionism and isolationism wouldn’t "address the real issues," he said. It’s a particularly brave stand to take in Michigan, where foreign imports are routinely vilified.

Jerry’s intellectual integrity is evident from the articles on his Web site. In an article headlined "The Moral Case for Free Trade" he asserts that trade "has encouraged our citizens to exercise God’s gift of creativity and to develop new products and services that succeed in the global market while improving the quality of life."

Poverty, he explains, is a complex and dynamic phenomenon. We have important moral obligations to those around us, but concern for the poor should not automatically translate into regulation and spending by government.

To the contrary, he argues, measures like the minimum wage are counterproductive, an example where policy-makers and clerics often "lead with their hearts and ignore what their heads ought to be telling them." Jerry condemns the frequent call by liberal clergy for new welfare programs as "using a kind of soft socialism combined with moral language and biblical quotations" to promote statist "solutions that have failed the poor the world over."

He applies the same lessons overseas. When rich musicians were pushing politicians to tax poor people to fund more foreign aid, Jerry put out a blunt statement entitled: "Why Your Tax Dollars Won’t Fix African Poverty."

International poverty has become a particular concern of his and he has visited Africa numerous times. He points out that such factors as defensible property rights, control of corruption, competitive markets, and international trade and investment are necessary for prosperity.

But businesses do more than produce stuff. Jerry emphasizes that society must be virtuous as well as free, and that depends on the actions of entrepreneurs and managers. Federal regulation "might prevent some unethical acts, but it will not be able to morally shape people."

Of course, fine character and policy smarts usually aren’t enough to catapult someone into the U.S. Senate. But through his duties at Acton he has worked with political and business as well as religious leaders, developing a personal network that extends far beyond Michigan.

There is scarcely a conservative intellectual who doesn’t know of the Institute – and Jerry. This network may help him raise the money necessary to make a winning Senate run.

Much is at stake in the 2006 election. Jerry actually gives people someone to vote for rather than against.

No one can deny the importance of the issues at stake. As Jerry said when he announced: "this campaign is going to come down to what we believe about human beings – about ourselves – about the kind of society we want to live in – about the kind of state and nation we want to be."