There are two things I hate: when someone takes advantage of their position in government and when The People are silenced. Unfortunately, my job highlights both of those things almost daily.
I remember when I first moved to South Georgia and started working on a corruption case. Someone said to me, “You know they’re not all going to be like this. Not all towns are like this.” Of course I didn’t believe him because I’m no political rookie and it took me all of one month on the council/commission meeting circuit to learn that simply is not true.
Whether people are buying elections, making promises to businesses, circumventing the system checks and balances, discussing votes off the record ahead of time, quietly receiving money, publicly receiving money, ignoring the rule of law, or having prisoners mow their own yard, nearly everywhere you look you will see people losing the battles against their governments.
Sure, there are little victories and things to cheer about, but by and large, problems exist in all corners of government operations. Throw in the courts and the public universities for good measure.
If I had a dollar for every time an interested, informed citizen was made a mockery of or told that a council meeting was not a time for them to address their council members I could build my own town, which I would, of course, name Sunshine USA.
But this is the reality. The reality is that your elected officials hope you aren’t paying attention and they hope you’ll excuse any bad behavior because of a long running friendship or because they sit with you at church.
I am sick and tired of people saying, “He is such a good dad” or “She has given so much to the community.” What’s even worse is when someone says, “Well, they are really trying to do what is best.”
First of all, that is fantastic, but they were not elected because they coach soccer. Second, no, they are not doing what is best for the community at the local, state or federal level. These people who rise to power via election or appointment know exactly what they’re doing. They help facilitate a system that keeps them in control. They lie to you, they twist words, they leave information out because power feels good.
“It’s not a tax increase, it’s a revenue increase,” one Georgia legislator said.
What does that even mean?
I am not saying there are not any good people in politics – I know many of them. But like us, they are losing.
Look at the state legislature. Last Wednesday and Friday the House chamber shoved nearly 100 bills to the floor for a vote. Three of them died, two of which were brought back to pass after strong arming folks to flip their votes, which they did. So out of all of those bills, all those topics, all those industries, and all those groups of people that will be affected, just one time did the people you trust to serve you collaboratively think an initiative was not in your best interest.
I could dedicate an entire blog series to terrible things the legislature does and how ours operates so backwardly, I need the state government to mandate Frontier upgrade my rural broadband before I am able to take on an endeavor like a blog series.
In all seriousness, the Georgia legislature is quietly morphing into a photocopy of the federal level – minus the Democrats who vote NO. There once was a group of legislators who would vote NO, work to reform bad bills, and influence their fellow lawmakers, but between political pressure and a damaged professional life, that movement has dissolved. Few remain, but clearly not enough. Just like one or two commissioners is not enough for change, neither is a handful of legislators when the population of the chamber is 180.
And what is this nonsense about people who vote NO being villains? I can think of more times than not when it is appropriate to vote nay: Perhaps when you did not read the bill, when you do not understand the bill, when an overwhelming number of your constituents request that you do, when you know the bill will do something negative – even to only one person, when you do not know what the bill will do, when the bill benefits a specific group of people.
Besides, if the issue is that important, it will come back soon. I assure you that no one will die while waiting for musicians who produce in Georgia to have a tax credit crafted for their industry. If you wait to approve the legislation adding “llama” to the livestock code section, I promise the world will keep turning.
Voting NO has become taboo. Look at Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz or Congressman Justin Amash. They have earned a level of respect, but they are still outcasts. They vote NO too much, they are idealists, they are unreasonable, and worst of all – they’re just doing it for publicity. That’s right – you’re the media whore if you dare commit the illicit action of voting against something. You’re dangerous and the powers that be will try to damage you to the people who helped elect you. “How dare you vote against my idea” is used more frequently than “Maybe we’ll agree on the next one” or “Explain to me why you voted NO.”
As for whether or not The People help decide whether or not something is going to become law, it’s time to let the air out of the balloon. It just isn’t happening. Haleigh’s HOPE Act for medical cannabis is one of the few initiatives where there was statewide pressure to pass legislation, so they did. But when the people oppose something, you may as well be speaking Yiddish in China.
To our elected officials, it’s about a tangible legacy and what can be left behind. It’s about what can be said about their tenure.
Unfortunately, the local governments are just a microcosm of all of the above. The Commissioner who questions something in a meeting is suddenly a pain in the rear. The city councilwoman who asks to table a tax increase because she thinks it’s too much is “radical.” We praise the bumps on a long who only repeat “YEA” over and over and over because they pick up the phone when we call and they send a card at Christmas.
And what are you doing while all of this is unfolding? You are in the gallery while the surgeons mutilate your organs and swipe the extra cash in your wallet while you’re under anesthesia. We watch from above but we feel every cut, snip, and tuck.
Things are not changing and as it stands, the path forward is paved with disappointment. After a while, you learn that a “win” for The People is often accompanied by the humiliation of someone else and it is likely that the very best you can do is ruin a legacy.
You attend council meetings only to be asked to refrain from commenting. You watch your Commissioners spend your money against the will of the community. You campaign for your state official only to learn that the dollar of a lobbyist is worth more than yours. You call your Congressman to be told “I’ll make note of it.” You see good people sour and succumb to the system. You become the cynic that everyone loves to hate.
But you won’t quit and neither will I. We’ll just complain about it, go to bed, and wake up for another round tomorrow. Because if we don’t, who will?