Do we elect people to government so they can represent us or govern us? This is the question we the people need to ask ourselves each election cycle if we are to create a government that is truly for each of us. In order to answer the question, I think we need to define the concepts, look at how the government looks when each is the focus, and decide which we want our elected officials to have as their guiding principal.
Let’s first take a look at govern. Merriam Webster Online has several meanings: to exercise continuous sovereign authority over especially : to control and direct the making and administration of policy in, to rule without sovereign power and usually without having the authority to determine basic policy, to control, direct, or strongly influence the actions and conduct of, to exert a determining or guiding influence in or over, to hold in check and to exercise authority. From looking at these definitions, it is plain to see they have the same substance but a very different flavor. Luckily, we can rule one out. The second can’t apply, because all forms of are Constitutionally given the ability to make and administer policy. So, that means the first and the last are exactly what the government is given to do by the people through the U.S. Constitution. The middle three are up for interpretation. Is a government by the people actually for the people when its purpose is “to control, direct, or strongly influence the actions and conduct of” the people or when its purpose is ” to exert a determining or guiding influence in or over” the people or when its purpose is “to hold in check” behaviors of the people. In my opinion, government by the people is only for the people when it holds the behaviors of individual people in check when those behaviors would harm other people. That said, I don’t think this can be a guiding principle. It is too easy to decide that the only way to check the bad behaviors of individuals is to control the behavior of all individuals.
So, does the key lie in the definition of represent? There are many definitions on Merriam Online, but the only ones that I see that apply to behavior of people in government are these: to take the place of in some respect, to act in the place of or for usually by legal right, to serve especially in a legislative body by delegated authority usually resulting from election . The last is the dictionary definition of what it means to be a representative of the people in a government of the people. The others informs what “to serve” means in that definition. To serve in government means a representative is taking the place of each person and to act in place of each person represented. Could this definition help a government by the people hold the bad behaviors of individuals in check without leading to controlling all individuals? It is possible. If a representative keeps in mind that the will of the people must always be at the forefront of any decision, yes. However, what is the will of the people? What if the will of the people is morally ambiguous or, worse out right evil? Does the representative have to be literally the replacement for the people represented in every situation? Let’s look at how each makes a government behave.
For me, I don’t have to theorize how putting “governing” first looks. We have people doing that at every level. We have Federal “legislators” who are so concerned about how they feel about each other that they refuse to govern. In many states we have red flag laws that eliminate due process for every citizen because of the behavior of a few citizens. In Illinois, we have legislators who want to pass laws to prevent us from pumping gas, influence our choice of bags at the supermarket, choose what we can plant in our garden, choose what is taught in our schools, prevent us from protecting our children from overtesting, force us to give our children the HPV vaccine, force us to give up our retirement for themselves and other public sector employees, the list goes on. The result of wrenching this control from us and local government is that taxpayers pay nearly the highest taxes in the nation and almost every level of government in Illinois is deep in debt. We have a Township supervisor who has broken the law because he feels he has the authority to implement his will on the people because it is his duty to govern. So, governing for governing’s sake seems to have some serious flaws.
Let’s look at what a government that solely represents the people looks like. First, there needs to be many channels of communication. Second, the representative has to have a way of sorting through the information. So, I see a lot of polling happening. This will be good for reaching a lot of people. However, it only reaches the people who decide to answer poll. So, it will be incumbent upon the representative to convince people that it is in their best interest to answer the poll. Also, polling can’t effectively do a deep dive into issues. For that, I have heard focus groups do very well. However, the group for each issue needs to be representative of the representative’s district or there need to be enough groups for that issue that the representative learns what the people of the district collectively want. Also, the people need to inform themselves on the issues that they respond to polls or sit in focus groups for. So, this model is very labor intensive for both the representative and the people. Also, we haven’t even talked about the fact that in this model, the representative cannot vote his conscience. So, is there a way to combine the two?
I think so. I think we need to have a representative governing model. In this model, the representative is required to be clear on what issues she will not budge and which he is willing to compromise. The representative is required to solicit information from constituents on all issues before voting in committee and/or on the floor by the state. The representative is also required to keep the lines of communication open with all constituents. However, the local governing body can choose to set rules on how to get the information and on how many people the representative must reach out to. The representative then should represent the people in his district to her best ability. This entails voting based as bid by citizens in the district unless counter to the policies originally set forth as a candidate or if the vote would go against the candidate’s moral code. The only enforcement for this provision is for the people in the district to express their displeasure at the ballot box unless the actions of the representative herself performed an illegal act. Then there should be measures in place to remove the representative. This is what we should have now. This is exactly the intent of the U.S. Constitution for members of the House.
Why the essay? This is my promise to you. I care about fixing property taxes without crippling public schools. I care about making the property tax process equitable. I care about making this a state where everyone can retire comfortably. I care about legislating at the right level for the people to hold representatives accountable and at the right level to provide services or prevent behavior most efficiently and equally. Beyond that, I am your representative. I will be polling and holding focus groups. I am asking for your help to best represent everyone in the 62nd.
Together we must right the ship that is Illinois. Together we can right this ship. Together we will right this ship.