Election Day, November 8, is next week. Since this is my last column before voters go to the polls, I want to discuss an important concern I have regarding a critical choice facing voters this year. I do not intend to advocate for particular candidates, because I do not think such advocacy is appropriate for this forum. My political affiliations are not a secret, and I encourage voters to visit my (new and improved) website for information about my political positions and affiliations.
Listening to the radio the other day, I heard a commentator on one of the mid-day talk shows complaining about the outrageous gerrymandering perpetrated by the Virginia General Assembly and the Governor. His conclusion was that so few state-level races are competitive, it doesn’t even make sense for many people to vote. I was really angry, because this fellow and his ilk should know better. Voting is not just about winning or losing races! Rather, it is a “secular sacrament” for citizens, which is as integral to the effective functioning of our political system-and for that matter our economic system and our very culture-as the rituals of Baptism, or Passover Seder, or bowing toward Mecca in prayer are to our religions.
I am passionate about the issue of public governance. Government exists to serve the needs of the public. Public governance is the process by which institutions of government discern those needs and determine how to meet them efficiently, effectively and fairly. As a statement of principle, this is not controversial. Across the political spectrum, when individuals believe their voice helps to define the needs of the public and how they are to be achieved, they accept these propositions. I believe this acceptance is the foundation of our democracy.
The worst lie perpetrated by the right wing is that the Government is “them” and not “us.” The value of this concept to their corporate and moneyed constituency is that a government that is distrusted is less able to interfere with their pursuit of their own interests. This statement has a slightly conspiratorial tone. However, most thoughtful conservatives would agree and welcome diminished government control.
Many on the left and in the middle have deep suspicions of government, as well. On the one hand, they see that corporate and other interest groups are able to channel the actions of governments in ways that benefit individual groups to the detriment of the public overall. At the same time, the incessant media focus on the self-serving actions and failures of local, state and Federal government management create distrust similar to the distrust of Wall Street or Big Oil.
This alienation between the individual and Government clearly diminishes the social commitment to voting. In my view, a critical by-product of this decline is to undermine Government’s accountability to the people. With low voter participation, it is easier for the Government to “tune out” the raised voices between election cycles. Remember the “silent majority?”
We currently have a stark example of this phenomenon with the Fairfax County School Board. Since the election in 2007, numerous issues have motivated vocal parent and citizen action: later start times, a longer school year, grading policy, discipline policy, escalating class sizes and school closings. The Board modus operandi-“strategic governance”— usually results in deference to the FCPS administration’s position and justifies as little change as possible, given the aggressiveness of advocates and media coverage of the issue. The Board defends itself by citing their responsibility to resist pressure from the vocal minority, for the benefit of the satisfied majority. FCPS responsiveness is an issue in most of the School Board races this year. It will be interesting to see the results.
I urge you to review the issues, review the races and to vote. It’s your contribution and responsibility to us all.
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at [email protected].