Perhaps the best way to describe me is that I have gravitated toward the “road less traveled” in my choices.
Citizen Engagement and Empowerment
Virtually every country starts with an aspiration to give power to its people, but, over time, those who believe they are wiser, morally superior, or stronger take more power away from the people. Left unchecked, even democratic governments encroach on the powers and lives of ordinary citizens.
How do we prevent that from continuing here and, in fact, reverse it?
We should make it easier for ordinary citizens to vote, to communicate with their government, to run for office and to contribute to political campaigns. Voting should take place over several weeks, and those registered to vote should be able to vote by mail or to receive their ballots in the mail and deliver their ballots in person. We should schedule even primary elections this way.
We have made it very difficult for ordinary citizens to be heard on critical issues. In Connecticut, many important meetings or hearings are held at the legislative office building in Hartford, when it is relatively easy to schedule multiple hearings at more dispersed and convenient locations around the State to get the public’s input. We also should be using more digital tools to enable public input on issues.
Running for office has become extremely expensive, very degrading, and very complicated. Many good people simply choose not to run, and many others are drained by the experience. The ability to withstand the rigors of a campaign is a necessary skill, but it does not predict or indicate whether someone can govern once elected.
Contributing to campaigns has become more complicated, because of the various well-intentioned laws and regulations that have been put into place over the last four decades.
- We should have intelligent transparency on government decisions. Today, we have absurdly high transparency on government “meetings,” even those at the early stage of a deliberative process. At the same time, government financial reporting, which tells us how government spends our money, is absurdly non-transparent. For example, trying to determine how most Connecticut school districts spend education funds is an exercise in futility for all except for forensic accountants. Although we get notice about pending legislation, last-minute amendments, which can change a piece of legislation, require almost no notice, especially those made on the floor of a legislature.
- We need to hold elected officials accountable, and cause them to make the most important decisions that affect our lives. Here in Connecticut, some of the most important decisions on state government services are determined through collective bargaining agreements, and, when labor and management disagree, through binding arbitrations. Since the unions and the state disagree and escalate decisions to 3-person arbitration panels, many important decisions end up being decided by one arbitrator, who becomes the deciding vote. This is an undemocratic decision process, in which the most powerful decision maker is not accountable to voters.
- Government officials should be making sensible, rational decisions. Too many decisions by legislators are made at the 12th hour of legislative sessions, with poor input by knowledgeable people, and, often, with heavy political favoritism for the most powerful groups. As Judge Moukawsher recently noted in his heavily reviewed decision on education funding, Connecticut (like many other governments) has no rhyme or reason for what it decides on critical education issues. This is what happens on many issues, not just education.
Government officials also need to revisit past laws and regulations to see what should be discontinued or modified. As Philip Howard, the founder of Common Good, has pointed out many times, laws and regulations, once enacted, stay in place forever, and strangle innovation and freedom.
- Government officials should be serving all the people. Too many government officials of a particular political party believe that their mission is to make decisions that secure their base of supporters in their political party, and to show that they are damaging their opponents. The interests of those who are unlikely to vote for them in the future are completely ignored. This is morally indefensible in a democracy, but our elected officials have slowly, but surely, drifted toward this mindset.
- Government must be trustworthy. It goes without saying that governments must behave with an acute appreciation of ethical principles at all times. We are unbalanced here. We have absurdly cumbersome laws and regulations to prevent even a hint of corruption in procurement (in Connecticut, the child of an executive whose company does a relatively small amount of state business cannot make even a $5 contribution to a political candidate). However, we funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars or even millions of dollars to candidates and their campaigns through 3rd party organizations that are thinly disguised campaign fronts for candidates.
Connecticut has a “part-time” legislature, which would appear to reduce the potential for corruption. However, many legislators work in services firms through which they become instant “rainmakers,” because those seeking favors from them give their discretionary business.
Government will only operate consistent with our highest values and at its highest level of competence, accountability, transparency, fairness and trustworthiness if all of us stay engaged.
My wife had a recent conversation with an older Cuban man who said that the Cubans in the 1950’s were great business people who made money, built businesses, and enjoyed their lives. They chose to ignore and disengage with government. They did not see Fidel Castro coming, and they ended up losing the country they loved.
Let’s not let that happen here!
- The Rule of Nobody: Saving America From Dead Laws and Broken Government, Phillip Howard
- Why Government Fails So Often and How It Can Do Better, Peter Schuck
- Boulevard of Broken Dreams: Why Public Efforts to Boost Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Have Failed – and What To Do About It, Josh Lerner
- The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita
- Our Republican Constitution: How to Secure the Liberty and Sovereignty of We the People, Randy Barnett
- A Less Perfect Union: The Case for States Rights, Adam Freedman
- Simple: The Future of Government, Cass Sunstein
- Manhattan Contrarian (a blog)
- It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism, Norman Ornstein
- Come Back America, David Walker
- A Republic No More: Big Government and the Rise of Political Corruption, Jay Cost
- Saving Congress From Itself: Emancipating the States and Empowering their People, James F. Buckley
Organizations I Have Supported:
- Common Good
- Institute for Justice
- Freedom House
- Manhattan Institute
- Yankee Institute
- RAND Corporation
Blogs related to Citizen Engagement & Empowerment