Summer 2012 Correspondence
Democracy is messy, but not a weakness
Your Editor’s Note, “Closed-door democracy” (Spring ’12), was meaningful to me. It’s human nature not to appreciate what we have until we lose it. I’m sure reporters on Beacon Hill don’t have deadline problems now because without debate there aren’t many stories.
Democracy’s very design makes it “slow, messy, and sometimes divisive.” When everyone has a voice, it takes time to air and resolve differences. In the 1980s, many bills in the Legislature, including at least two budgets, were forced back to committees for changes because of vociferous debate and dissent. That is how what we now call “transparency” works.
Each member of that coalition had his or her own personal agenda. Some wanted to be heard and respected, while others wanted to fill the power vacuum and start their own autocracies. Fortunately, the new speaker, George Keverian, recognized members’ desire for respect and embraced small “d” democracy. Budding autocrats and reporters with deadlines grumbled that the speaker was “weak,” but the opposite was true. Under his leadership, democracy flourished. When he left, the House returned to autocracy and the trappings of power. Three successive speakers were convicted of felonies.
None of these people came to the House to do wrong, but they are only human. Almost anyone spending 15 to 20 years with the trappings of power, prestige, and adulating sycophants will have an unrecognized change of attitude. It is a weakness of human nature to succumb to temptation and a sense of entitlement. As stated in “Time Out” by Gabrielle Gurley, Rep. Ellen Story, who came to the House as a reformer but is now a member of the current speaker’s “inner circle,” said there would be “consequences” for members if they voted against the speaker on casino gambling. This is democracy?
Today, voter anger is focused on the waste, abuse, and corruption in Washington that threatens our nation.
Nothing will eliminate corruption, because it’s part of human nature, but term limits would substantially reduce it. However, we will never see it, because voters also have agendas. The common refrain: “My representative is great (i.e., got my kid into college, moved a utility pole, got our pond dredged, got my town a fire truck, etc.), but the others are bums!” If people are getting what they need from their elected officials, they will continue voting for them, and 20 years later will be shocked that their representative has been brought up on charges. But it’s part of the problem —the easy re-elections give many of the long-serving officials a sense of invincibility, as well as discourage other potentially great candidates from running against them. If we impose term limits on our president, why not on all elected officials?
If we ever return to the late 1980s democracy, I will guarantee one thing: Reporters will grumble about missing deadlines, because they are human, too.Jack Flood
(Former Canton state representative, 1981-1990)
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