We have all been intensely focused on the national election for at least the past year; and that intensity may have taken our attention away from state and local governance. Now that we are taking down signs, emptying campaign offices and beginning to prepare for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, we should not ignore the important decisions facing our elected local and state officials. Equally as important to turn our attention to is the teamwork (or lack thereof) displayed by these representatives we trust to transact our communal business.
Frequently during campaigns, candidates running for different offices representing the same voters present themselves as a ‘team’ promising to work together in the voters’ interests. This concept is a very good idea, but doesn’t usually play out so well in non-campaign instances. One barrier to effective working relationships between different levels of elected government is obvious–your elected representatives are very busy executing the responsibilities of their respective offices. But that alone should not prevent frequent group problem- solving. After all, the same voters elect quite a few representatives and those same voters’ issues frequently involve more than one layer of government. A second barrier to true teamwork on behalf of shared constituents is all too human. Some elected representatives simply dislike some other elected representatives and allow that personal sentiment to block practical, solution oriented communication. Finally highly our competitive campaign system can become a barrier also, especially when folks aspire to ‘higher office’ and believe they need to ‘own’ achievements for future campaign fodder, or feel politically threatened by another officeholder.
Obviously, true teamwork among elected representatives produces the most effective and efficient use of community resources. After all, our community streets, schools, libraries, etc are owned and paid for by the taxed electorate that elects us all. Those voters have a right to expect that all their elected representatives will share the relevant perspectives and opinions of each respective office and act together as sincere stewards of common resources and work for the common good.
Sad to say, I do not see this thoughtful and effective approach to governing employed very often. I believe that we electeds and we voters are the poorer for allowing our representatives to function in silos. Just as we demand evidence of competence and compassion from candidates during campaign season, we must demand evidence of coordinated execution of office-holding responsibilities. We must not be quietly disappointed when our governing representatives operate as lone decision-makers; we must firmly and loudly (if need be) remind them that teamwork doesn’t end on election day. Teamwork must be employed in earnest after election day.
Only with active cooperation between levels of government can our resources/tax money be spent in the most effective and practical ways; and only with that active cooperation can our interests as community members, taxpayers and voters be best served.
So let’s hear some voices raised in support of visible cooperative teamwork. Only the voters can change the current lack of joint problem-solving by publicly demanding teamwork from their elected representatives. The voters’ job doesn’t end on election day; it only shifts focus. Governing begins on the day after the election, and governing is what you elect us to do. Don’t forget about us after you vote–don’t forget about the team you elected to serve you.
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at [email protected].