As newly elected legislators at all levels begin taking office, it is important to remind everyone that robust debate and holding our politicians accountable is critical to a healthy democracy.
To those politicians who are thin of skin, I encourage you to get over it or find another way to serve your community and/or pay your bills (depending on your motivation for running in the first place). As someone who has served nearly 20 years in the public sector, I can testify first hand how brutal public life can be.
To the public the advice I will offer is do not judge what is in a politicians heart, nor without clear and tangible evidence, question their integrity or character. Please do not label all who disagree with you as corrupt, crooked, or as someone sleeping with the devil. The truth may be that those particular policymakers simply see the world through a different lens than you do.
If elected policy makers march down a path in support of putting profits, development, and corporate interests over that of the interests of people and the environment, then perhaps that is how they look at the world. Some of us may vehemently disagree and I will be the first to put my name on that list – but it does not mean those elected individuals are of poor character or corrupt. After all, they were elected fair and square (more or less) by voters in the community (those who decided to actually show up).
However, getting elected does not translate to a free pass and we must be willing to call out actions that we believe work to the detriment of our core community values.
Elected office holders and politicians must be willing to do the same. Too often under the guise of civility, too many are unwilling to stand up or speak out on important issues.
The responsibility of speaking truth to power and being willing to shine a light by asking the tough questions in a small community is often difficult at best. Living in a small town where we see each other at Costco on a regular basis translates to most preferring not to be critical of those who hold the power, whether it be economic or political. Being seen as someone who makes waves, or causes trouble by asking too many questions, can have tangible and long lasting impacts on relationships with family and friends.
Labeling those willing to speak out as “divisive” is a potent tool designed to get people to “shut the front door”, sit down and be quiet.
Clearly, sometimes the label is warranted and yet many times the nature of the issue makes a certain level of divisiveness unavoidable. There is no shortage of history supporting the premise that significant change happens only when people speak out loudly, demanding that change.
I would argue that when people are quiet, bad things happen. I would further argue that those who hold power want people to remain quiet, to not ask questions and to not “get in the way”.
Too often elected policy makers especially those that are new to the process, are either too timid, or too eager to go along to get along and thus avoid asking the tough questions. Their desire to be seen as a team player and to avoid the perception of divisiveness can easily get in the way of their responsibility to shine a light into the dark and shady corners.
Politics is a rough and tumble occupation. Those that hold public office are not there to support the team or the legislative body to which they join, but rather they are there to serve and represent the community that elected them. Yes, legislators should endeavor to work with the administration and to whenever possible move a noble and positive agenda forward. But they must also serve as a check and balance to the administration, and to their legislative colleagues as well.
The responsibility for all of this, lies with all of us. We must speak out and question authority. We must do so in a professional and civil manner. And we must not let the pursuit of civility get in the way of our civic responsibility to hold our government accountable.