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Are You Represented or Tolerated?

Our Representative Democracy

by Alan Neibauer

Sometimes we lose track that we have a representative democracy. Rather than a direct democracy, where the public votes on everything, we elect representatives to serve in our place. We pick representatives that have demonstrated they align with the beliefs and wishes of their constituents.

Supposed to represent us,  not special interests

So, for example, if voters are for a safer bike infrastructure or more open space, and against increased density in single family neighborhoods, we assume our representatives will vote that way. They are representing us,  not themselves. If they don’t want the job, don’t take it.

Of course, there are exceptions. When a representative wins office they don’t know what will come before them. Sometimes a unique or exceptional situation will occur that separates a representative from their constituent’s wishes. This is a personal and moral quandary to come to terms with.  But when a pattern emerges, consistently voting opposite their constituency, the representative has lost their moral compass.

Believe the lies of some, over the truth of others

The problem is that representatives are not required to fulfill campaign promises. There is nothing, other than conscience, that prevents representatives from being seduced by special interests and political pressure. Sometimes they just want to believe the lies of some people, rather than the truths of others.

Speaking out at meetings doesn’t always do the trick. It’s obvious that once our representatives make up their minds, they won’t really listen to us. We can push for town meetings to express our wishes en masse. But there is still no guarantee they will vote in our favor.

Sharing our concerns vs representing them

The most trite things they can say is “we share your concerns but” or “we appreciate your concerns but” then vote against them. It is a direct assault, admitting they are ignoring the wishes of their constituents, and siding somewhere else. They don’t actually appreciate your concerns, and probably never even considered them. To them, listening to you is something they just have to do. Their job isn’t to share or appreciate your  concerns, and  then do whatever they want to do. Remember, they are our representatives. Their job is to at least press pause,  give both parties an honest opportunity to compromise. They represent us, not themselves.

Even failure can’t stop them

You would think it would be effective to show our disapproval at the polling place. But even that isn’t guaranteed. The recent defeat of extended terms for Boca city council should have shown our representatives our true feelings. But they are ignoring the defeat, and not acknowledging the real reason for its failure. “It was an off election.”  “People just didn’t come out to vote.”

The only real way to be effective is over time. Don’t allow representatives who have betrayed your trust to get the opportunity to betray others. Remember their betrayal when they run for reelection, or if they seek higher office at the county, state, or federal levels. This is the only way to really get their attention. It may be too late for them, but new candidates  will certainly take notice. Even then, overcoming the influence of special interests is an uphill battle. But if we do not speak out, or take a role in defeating untrustworthy candidates, then we are leaving others who will fight the battle for us with a much more daunting task.


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