230 years ago the founders of our country decided that our country would have the best chance of success through a republic form of a government. As opposed to:
- a monarchy (rule through lineage- think “The Crown”),
- aristocracy (rule by a small, privileged group- think “Downton Abby”)
- or pure democracy (rule directly through majority opinion- think “Gilmore Girls”),
our republic attempted to take the best of each of these forms of governance and combine them into one cohesive system of rule. The “people” create the foundation but many of the founders were concerned that a faction could take control of the majority and steer policy in a direction that would cause harm to the greater good. In the words of James Madison, a republic became the solution:
Like aristocracy, we have a small ruling body but rather than have that power come from lines of privilege, it steams from the voice of the people. We endow this chosen group with the responsibility, “to refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations”. In essence, our form of government requires the people to put trust in a representative body with a belief that this group will be able to identify the greatest needs separate from their own interests and then be able to communicate that need back to the people. It becomes it’s own system of checks and balances.
As of late there have been a number of candidates expressing their desire to be a “representative” along with many citizens questioning what exactly is meant by this statement. I have spent a great deal of time trying to refine my thoughts on the matter. The most prevalent thing that keeps coming to me is that a republic cannot function solely as a democracy or an aristocracy. We cannot be any more successful in giving 100% of trust to an elite group verses giving 100% of the power to the most vocal majority. It has to be a blend of the two. In this we are able to administer governance for a city/state/country all while still trying to do what is best for the group, at large. I believe that was the goal of the founders.
When we move beyond the theory, application can get a bit more difficult. How do we make sure that the elected body is doing what is best for the community? How do we provide enough oversight to make sure that the people are not being taken advantage of? In our modern society, elections are won, in large part, by the person who has the most money. How do we keep our ruling bodies from becoming more like an aristocracy where the decisions are being made by a few of privilege to further perpetuate their position? And, how do we keep vocal factions from oppressing others?
I think the surest key in making sure that our republic functions as it was intended falls back to the people. The success in each of these questions can be tied directly back to how involved the citizenry remains. When the community sees their role ending as soon as a ballot is cast, the door opens for lines to be blurred. When the people check out of the process, we leave the process to unfold unchecked. Remaining engaged requires understanding why we have government, how decisions are made and acting when we are concerned about the direction that is being taken. Without this engagement, we fall into a position of subservience to our elected officials and lose the balance that was intended from our foundations.
So, what will my role be if I am elected to city council? My role will be to understand the priorities of the community through helping the citizens remain engaged, exercise my judgment in routine decisions weighing against the priorities that the citizenry has set and communicating that thought process back to the people so that accountability can occur. Inalienable rights must prevail.
I will not always vote with the most vocal majority on any given subject but my goal is to start with the basics, filter down to our societal priorities and then make balanced decisions that benefit the community at large. If I cannot communicate and validate my decision in regards to this criteria, I would hope that the citizens will be involved enough to question me further. I cannot promise that I will always be perfect in this endeavor but I can promise that I will work to uphold these foundations in blending my role of discernment with the will of the people.