There’s a question I find I’m asking myself more and more lately, and it’s this — What makes for a good politician? Inherent in that question is the assumption that there can be such a thing as a “good” politician, but let’s just assume they’re out there for the sake of argument. I know a lot of us have opinions on which politicians are good and which are not. It’s actually a quantifiable fact that Congress hasn’t enjoyed much popularity in recent years.
You’d think we would have collectively gotten the message decided en masse to throw the bums out. Only we haven’t. More often than not, we believe our own elected officials are the only ones that are worth a damn in today’s modern political circus, and it shows. Incumbents are reelected with baffling regularity. Congress as a whole might not be heading in the direction we want, but, damn it, if our guy or gal isn’t trying their best to right the ship.
That got me thinking about what we expect from our elected representatives. Here in California, we’re a largely Democratic state, in terms of voter registration. This has surely led to some disenfranchisement on the part of Republicans, Independents, and anyone else who doesn’t toe the increasingly liberal lines set forth by the California Democratic Party and its cadre of candidates, activists, and lobbyists.
I know I’ve felt it. In every presidential election of my adult life, I know my vote was effectively nullified because of the rules that govern how California allocates its electoral votes. For as long as I’ve been cognizant of Sacramento politics, I’ve known that my vote and my voice are largely meaningless in a state that sees my point of view as an aberration. Something divisive purely for purpose of sewing hate. I, and many others like me, have been marginalized, ignored, and openly mocked by a government that claims to have our best interests at heart.
But do they?
Some recent events have given me a glimmer of hope that the rest of California will eventually wake up from this self-imposed fugue state. Apparently, a good deal of citizens have decided they don’t like the direction the state is taking with the Bullet Train. We’re not stupid. We see the costs ballooning every day. We realize we were sold a bill of goods by the governor, who has bullied this project past us at every turn. Governor Brown has vociferously defended the project, going so far as to call opponents “small minded”.
More locally, activists in the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles took to the streets to protest the erection of a proposed homeless shelter. Hundreds of people voiced their opposition to the plan. And this wasn’t their first protest on this issue. Despite the local outcry, LA City Council President Herb Wesson (who, coincidentally, represents the residents of Koreatown) said the project will move forward. He had this to say:
A few days ago I met with one of the opposition leaders who looked me in my face and he said, “Why don’t you think about your future?” I’m not worried about my future. I’ve been blessed. I have a good life. We are fighting for the future of the mother of two that is going to sleep in a doorway or sleep in her car with one eye open so she can keep an eye on her children and make sure that she’s not robbed or raped or worse.
Isn’t Mr. Wesson supposed to represent these people. He’s supposed to consider his constituents’ needs first, right? That’s what we would all expect from our own elected representatives. That’s why we sent them to City Hall or the State Capitol or Washington in the first place, right? If they aren’t there to fight for us, why are they there? Could there be another reason?
I think the argument can definitely be made that a politician sometimes needs to do something unpopular for the betterment of society as a whole. Everyone knows that sometimes in life you’re forced to make difficult choices. They can be simple, like choosing to cook meals at home, rather than eating out, to save money. They can also be difficult, like deciding to move from your home because you can no longer afford it. People do what they have to do for the good of their families.
Politicians are no different. However, that doesn’t mean they are given carte blanche to do whatever they please as long as they deem it to be for the good of society. It’s my belief that far too many politicians almost immediately disregard the wants and needs of their constituency upon election. Like Governor Brown and Herb Wesson illustrate, the desires of those who put these politician in office are often relegated to background noise in whatever particular crusade in which they elect to engage. Unless those constituents have money, of course. But that’s another topic for another day.
Ultimately, we need to break this trend. We need to remind our politicians why we sent them to their various offices in the first place. They are there to represent us and our needs. They are our advocate. Our voice. Far too often, a neophyte politician will choose to vote with his or her party, rather than with his or her people. The allure is great, I’m sure. Power. Professional camaraderie. Access to people and places the average citizen will never enjoy. Kennedy’s White House was called Camelot for a reason.
I’m sure that was a factor in what led my own state senate representative Josh Newman, who ran as an independently minded Democrat and won an extremely narrow victory in a tight race, to immediately seek shelter from the half of his district who didn’t vote for him in the relative safety of the other State Senate Democrats. And they’ve rewarded him for his loyalty (not to his constituents, of course, but to the party) by voting to change recall rules and funneling money into his bid to fend off his recall.
But I’m confident he will be recalled. And I hope it will send a message to all the other politicians in California to remind them who’s in charge. We need to put the rest of our politicians, locally and nationally, on notice. We need to stop reelecting incumbents with 90+% rates. We need to stop settling for the lesser of two evils. We need real community leaders to step up and take the reins of government back for the people.
I’d say we need to put the fear of god in them, but I doubt that would do much of anything. So, instead, let’s put their fear of unemployment in them. It’s apparently the only thing they’ll listen to.