If you haven’t noticed, it’s already election season. While we’re not sure who the candidates in the 2008 primaries might be in most county, district and statewide races, the field of presidential hopefuls is practically in place. But even at this “late date,” it appears we can still expect an additional entry or two, and certainly we’ll see a number of dropouts by the time the cool autumn breezes begin to blow.

Formal presidential debates have been under way for weeks — with more to come. If you think this is far too soon for an election that won’t be finally decided until November 2008, consider: parties in many states will commit their electors in less than seven months.

If you’re a potential candidate with a hankering to run, time’s a wastin’.

We’re hearing a lot about leadership as the campaigns progress. My dictionary defines the word simply, as having “the ability to lead.” That’s just perfect for any candidate to wave in front of voters. The word sounds quite noble, but also provides plenty of wiggle-room.

Its definition may be nebulous, but we know it when we see it. We also know it when we don’t. Leadership is a term that was prominent during the remarks made about Texas Secretary of State Phil Wilson as the Brownwood native took the oath of office at the Texas Capitol on Wednesday.

Longtime Brownwood residents remember Wilson as a motivated, overachieving high school student with a special intellectual curiosity. One of his teachers said she could tell that even then, he was on his way to serving society in such a manner. His Hardin-Simmons University classmates remember him in a similar way, noting that in an era when every student had a backpack, Wilson carried a briefcase.

But amid such jabs of humor, accolades flowed as Texas’ 106th secretary of state took the oath. Gov. Rick Perry said he has come to trust Wilson’s advice while he served as Perry’s communications director and more recently his deputy chief of staff with special responsibilities in economic development. The secretary of state serves as Texas’ point man for contacts with other nations, and Perry said combining those roles will streamline the process of marketing the state around the globe.

It’s impossible to say what the future might hold for Phil Wilson, but in the past the office he now holds has been an important step to elective offices for many Texas leaders. Some have speculated that Roger Williams left the office this year in preparation for his own 2008 campaign. There certainly is precedent for that. Four Texas secretaries of state went on to become governor, including Mark White, and three became lieutenant governor, including Bob Bullock. Of course, if you do the math, that also means 99 other Texas secretaries of state did not attain — if they even desired — such positions.

Certainly, that speculation is premature. But Wilson’s remarks after he took the oath of office from Perry was a checklist of what most Texans hope their appointed and elected officials should believe. Those who have been working with Wilson in public service, from his days in Sen. Phil Gramm’s office to his most recent position in the governor’s office, attest that Wilson does what he says. It wasn’t a hollow sentiment that sounded good at a ceremony.

From his own words and those of others, it was clear that Wilson’s philosophy is based in humility, founded in his faith through which he seeks wisdom and shaped by an appreciation of the truly important things in life — things like the love of family and friends, the significance of a good job and the education to hold it, an understanding of the limited time we may have on earth and the awe that stems from serving the best interests of 20 million Texans.

Whether or not Phil Wilson every runs for political office in Texas, candidates would do themselves and their constituents well by adhering to those tenets. I like to think that all politicians who throw their hats into the ring believe that they do what they do, and that they strive for what they strive, with the best interests of those they serve in mind.

Sadly, ego and ambition often overcome any of that, and we continue to see politicians who are instead looking out mostly for themselves. Sadly too, voters can’t always discern the difference until after the ballots have been marked.

We often forget that winning an election and serving the people with honor are two separate skills. Voters uphold their crucial duty when they collectively identify the individuals who have mastered both disciplines, and who haven’t forgoteen why they got into politics in the first place.

Gene Deason is managing editor of the Bulletin. Robert Brincefield’s column will return next Sunday.