Friday, March 21, 2014

Caution: You Get the Government You Vote For

Caution: You Get the Government You Vote For 

The filing period for candidates running for public office is approaching, and it’s time to take a look at some people with overt or latent political aspirations. That’s what I did at the Cheyenne City Council first reading of PlanCheyenne, paying attention to the governing attitudes of the people who came to comment.

What kind of informed discussion and deliberation could we expect from them and the candidates who would represent them, I wondered, because I expect members of this group will be on our ballot come August and perhaps November.

I deduced following attitudes of governance from the folks I watched during that PlanCheyenne public comment period:

1.      It’s my way or the highway.
2.      If you disagree with me, shut up.
3.      If you contradict me, shut up. If you point out a contradiction in my position, shut up.
4.      If we show up to meetings in greater numbers than others do, we win. If I ask for a show of hands in the room during that meeting, and it favors my position, I win.
5.      We show disagreement to comments with audible scorn – grunts and sneers, mostly.
6.      We use name-calling, epithets and ridicule in the place of discussion and strength of argument.
7.      If we are loud and insistent, the decision must go our way.
8.      If I pay taxes, I get to control decisions.
9.      If my copy of the Wyoming State Constitution is well-worn, my position is superior.
10.  We misrepresent your position (a straw dog) and then proceed to ridicule and disprove it, to the sneers of our members.
11.  The world revolves around me and what I want. I don’t have to discuss short- or long-term consequences. Give me simple. Don’t give me complex.
12.  We believe that removal of regulation will yield an ideal world -- for ourselves and our posterity -- that has jobs for our kids but doesn't attract businesses with infrastructure and amenities.
13.  If I don’t need some thing, then there is no need for that thing.

The man sitting next to me illustrated some of these traits in one exchange:
“A bunch of Nazis!”
“Nazis? Conducting a public hearing?” (You know how Adolph Hitler opened up his policies to public comment.)
“You must be a Democrat!” (He spat out that last word.)
“I am a registered Independent.”
“Shut up.”

By contrast, consider the attitude and behavior of another kind of public official who, I suggest, is a better choice for good governance:
1.      I listen to table-thumping individuals, but I don’t let the loud comment weigh more than others.
2.      I do my homework instead of reacting to simplistic slogans and “bogeymen.”
3.      I try to appreciate complexities of problems and different viewpoints and interests, in order to find solutions. I understand that some solutions require balancing competing interests and compromises.
4.       I consider the input of people who show up to meetings, as well as those who don’t.
5.      After I listen to everyone and do my homework, I base my vote on what I think is best, and I can explain my vote to the public. I don’t take direction from an individual or group. I am not controlled by ideology.
6.      If I disagree with a fellow official or member of the public, I disagree civilly and with respect. 
7.      I understand that some regulation is necessary to ensure rights and responsibilities, but I am careful to consider the negative consequences of over-regulation.
8.      I try to consider the welfare of the whole community, for people who live here now and who will live here in the future.
9.      I am a public servant, which means I am not in this office for grandstanding and self-aggrandizement. I approach my job with humility and true interest in understanding the concerns of others. I know I don’t have all the answers, but I will do my best.

Your critique of PlanCheyenne is a separate issue. The question I raise is what kind of person you want in elected office and what kind of government do you want? Because you will get the government that you elect. Be informed - and then vote.