By Bob Steinberg
Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, the late former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, once said that “all politics is local.” By that he meant that elected officials in Washington or at the state level are beholden to the concerns of voters at the local level.
Our government should be running from the ground up. Our elected officials should be servants of the people. Unfortunately personal interests, greed, indifference, cronyism and even corruption often inhibit the transparency needed to monitor elected officials, including how they spend our tax dollars.
Our founding fathers eliminated elements of tyranny and injustice that often permeated the walls of government in their native lands. They incorporated what was good and decent, while eliminating many of the infringements on personal freedoms and liberty they had experienced.
Our forefathers were visionaries. They arrived in America with a common goal that can best be described in the poignant words of President Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address – “a government of the people, by the people, for the people, that shall not perish from the earth.”
The strength of America’s government is derived from its people. This melting pot of humanity has brought to our shores a never-ending supply of creativeness and ingenuity that has benefited our nation, our states and our communities.
But many localities are not taking full advantage of this invaluable resource. There is often a fear among the old guard that the “come-heres” want to change everything instead of accepting the status-quo. While in some cases their fears could be warranted, in most cases newcomers want to add, not detract, to their new communities.
People who move to an area become a part of their church, job or school. Many do volunteer work, often providing hours of community service that many organizations could never afford to support through staffing. Many volunteers are retirees who lend their valuable expertise. Most also are taxpayers and property owners.
Just as America is often referred to as a melting pot, to a lesser degree our communities also are an amalgam of folks from all over this great nation. And just as our nation derived its greatness from this endless supply of new energy, so too should each community recognize and encourage the participation of newcomers.
While they are often welcomed in our towns and cities, especially as community volunteers, there often is a reluctance to integrate newcomers into the political process. This can mean that the same people are involved in local politics for generations because the folks who have control want to keep it. In other words “we know what’s best for our community.”
Some incumbents don’t like being challenged in a primary or a general election. But it is vital to the preservation of democracy at every level of government for voters to have choices-of both candidates and political parties.
Many of our communities are not growing. Their citizens suffer fiscal hardships as jobs become scarcer and taxes keep increasing. And oftentimes, the same politicians who have been in office year after year see tax increases as the only answer.
The remedy might very well be increased public scrutiny, an effective two or more party system, competitive elections and, hopefully, frequent turnover of seats. Term limits would help too.
All of us need to encourage and support the participation of not only “come heres”, but locals who have never been a part of the political process. When we do, voters will have a choice. And we will begin to fulfill the promise and reap the rewards our forefathers envisioned for us more than 200 years ago.