County 101 conflicts with Democracy 101

Source: Cape Cod Times / / By Paula Bacon /

The irony of it all. A program sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Cape Cod at the Cape Cod Community Television station was to be broadcast with three county officials: County Commissioner Leo Cakounis, John Ohman, dean of the County Assembly of Delegates (assembly speaker Suzanne McAuliffe having bowed out) and Barnstable County Administrator Jack Yunits. The three essentially told the ladies that the most important and contested issue to come before the county was not going to ever get to a public vote. The towns and the officials knew better, they said.

We do know that voters can get it wrong, but democracy by definition is government by the people. Put the issues to the people. Let the people vote on restructuring.

I am an old Cape Cod woman with deep lineage here who is alarmed at being told in a League of Women Voters forum that although one of the stated challenges of the county is structure, there is not a chance that any reorganization proposal — from the much-vetted plan put forward several years ago by Sens. Rob O’Leary and Henri Rauschenbach to another floated last year by Barnstable County Assembly delegate Patrick Princi — will ever get to the voters.

The audience was told how a dredge works. The league has studied county government for years. I know how successful the dredge program is — and how unsuccessful is the bicameral system with 18 to 21 people. Maybe the comments to essentially sabotage efforts at restructuring met the satisfaction of some people, but the many people who worked on the O’Leary-Rauschenbach plan and know the problems, including Yunits, know better.

How can it be OK to streamline all of the departments and not take a moment for self-reflection? It was stated that the citizens just don’t look at regional government, and that that could possibly explain why institutional problems never get solved. The charter states that regional government cannot violate state ethics codes. People should not be voting on their own jobs. This is ignored, so it is doubtful that our regional representatives will ever vote themselves out of a job. Putting restructuring to the voters is the only way out of this conundrum.

The supposition that bicameral government is good because it assumes people need checks and balances outside of the voting booth may be a root cause of the dysfunction at many levels of government. A recent column by David Brooks in The New York Times took issue with the assumption that greed governs all people and that needs to be put in check. Machiavelli and John Locke influenced this idea. This has made the U.S. Senate so undemocratic it is scandalous. Why does Wyoming get two senators and California only two as well? The status quo is not democratic. I would posit that our Cape Cod representatives are truly convinced that they are operating for the good of Cape Cod and they are honorable people. I will also fight for my right as a Cape Cod woman to vote on fundamental governing issues. I may not like how the vote goes, but the process of taking the issues to the people (not the towns, states, dog patches or whatever) is critical. And in a fast-paced world, change should not be so cumbersome that it is a weight too heavy to bear in functioning government.

 What was ignored is that people are political and relational creatures. We want leaders with basic values; we want structure in a social order. The vision of human dignity in the moral order was neglected.

Gov. Baker said last month in his State of the State address: “We live in a great state filled with creative, community-minded, hardworking and decent people.” Charlie Baker exemplifies this.

And so many have come before, like George Washington, Abe Lincoln, John Stuart Mill, Walt Whitman, Vaclav Havel and so many others who have even written about not settling for smallness.

When the premise and/or structure from which we operate is wrong, the conclusions are usually flawed too. What gall, what irony, in telling LWV ladies that they can’t vote.