Guest blog by Amber R. Van Til, IBA Senior Vice President-Government Relations
“Democracy is a poor system; the only thing that can be said for it is that it’s eight times as good as any other method.” — Robert A. Heinlein, author of Stranger in a Strange Land
Like many of our blog readers, I grew up in an environment where government was admired and respected. I idolized our elected officials for their ability to cross the aisle and strike a deal for the benefit of the citizens of the United States. As a child, my favorite vacation destination was Washington DC, the heart of our democracy. My formative years coincided with the Reagan presidency, a time of unabashed national pride, when the legislative and executive branches were making significant changes to the way America does business.
Today congressional approval has sunk to a dismal 12 percent, earning the second-to-last ranking in a recent Gallup poll. (The bottom ranking went to my profession — the lobbying community.) Yet I am first in line to defend my colleagues, inside and outside of the legislative Chambers. Daily contact and years of experience have taught me there are many, many fine folks representing the people of Indiana, both at the Statehouse and in Congress. When I am away from the halls of government, I am personally disheartened by what folks say about the leaders they elect: “All politicians are crooked,” “They are only interested in getting to the next office,” “They are all controlled by money and special interests.” Certainly there are some bad apples, as in any profession, but let’s spend more time counting the good apples.
We live in a highly partisan world. With every passing day, fewer and fewer Americans identify themselves as independent or in the middle. As our constituency becomes more partisan, we elect more officials who skew to the extreme right wing of the Republican Party or to the far left wing of the Democratic Party. As a result, fewer consensus-builders remain in office.
It’s a hard truth to face, but we have largely created our own monster. When we elect officials who campaign as extreme liberal Democrats or as far right Republicans, why do we expect them to rise about their divisive slogans and govern wisely?
2014 represents another important election year in Indiana. We will be electing a new state treasurer and half of the Indiana Senate, plus the entire Indiana House of Republicans will be up for reelection. Before you vote, research the candidates. Seek out consensus-builders. As leaders in your communities, you have the opportunity to preserve and shape a democracy that will serve as a legacy for future generations.
Democracy may not be perfect, but it gives us a choice.