The job of a legislator in modern day America isn’t what it used to be. Today it’s tougher. Winning public support for the right policies now requires a lot more effort and there are a lot more forces working against those good policies.
What hasn’t changed since the nation’s founding is that it’s still all about public opinion.
“I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”
“The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter.”
“Promote then as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.”
“Public opinion sets bounds to every government, and is the real sovereign in every free one.”
These guys knew what they were talking about.
It’s self evident that no politician is going to be able to move public opinion if the public sees them as part of the corrupt system. In Illinois, that problem is acute.
According to the Corporate Crime Reporter a couple of years ago, “The states with perhaps the worst reputations for corruption have historically been Louisiana, Illinois, Rhode Island and New Jersey.” Are our legislators proud that Illinois is living up to its reputation? It recently came in fifth in a ranking based on “public corruption convictions per 100,000 people.”
It follows that corruption issue deserves some time and attention. Specifically, it helps if our legislators would take a few simple pledges to avoid things that undercut public confidence. It’d be easy to develop a list of things that the public typically frowns upon, such as political hiring, nepotism, misuse of campaign funds, and clear conflicts of interest. Silence on this issue leads observers to think that a legislator is guilty or doesn’t want to rock the boat.
Second on the list of important issues has to be the growth of government itself. Simple math tells us that the larger the share of wealth that the government takes the smaller the share left to taxpayers to pursue happiness. If liberty is to be preserved, government must be limited.
The solution to controlling the growth in Government is the passage of a Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights. If “TABOR” supporters would have been listened to in 1994, Illinois would already have one in place and we wouldn’t be facing the crisis created by the last three governors.
There’s already too much government to oversee now. If you doubt that, you should know that there’s no adequate oversight even at the school district level. School board members are forced to use Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain basic spending information from the districts they’re elected to oversee.
Speaking of education, for all the state tax dollars spent – you think you’d hear more from our General Assembly members about how that money is being spent. But it’s hard for them to make an issue of what they don’t know. Like school boards, they defer to the bureaucrats who are spending the money. No one has yet offered any proof that the ever-present cries for more money are justified.
The single largest expenditure is what state taxpayers shell out for health care and social services. When is the last time you heard anything substantive from your local rep or senator about what policy changes are needed on that front?
©2008 John Francis Biver