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Givens: Dysfunctional government needs to be repaired

POSTED: December 18, 2013 1:00 a.m.

In a perfect world our elected representatives would sit down with each other, craft laws that help society and, when they don’t work, fix what is wrong with them.

Sadly when a law gets passed, it is difficult to fix any problems that result from it. This is because politics is not about good government. Politics is about power.

When a law is passed but has a few problems, it is in the interest of those who opposed the law to wail about how much of a failure it is. Conversely, it is in the interest of those who supported the law to not amend it because to do so would be an admission of failure.

As a result, we have a ton of laws that sort of work but not really, and a Congress paralyzed to do anything about it. As an educator, I believe No Child Left Behind would be good example. These laws are well-intentioned, but things get bogged in the execution, and special interests also have reasons to keep things bogged down. The No Child Left Behind Act was jokingly called the No Testing Company Left Behind Act.

As voters, we really need to start asking our politicians to fix what they can. House Speaker John Boehner has mentioned that some interest groups are misleading people. I have to agree with him. Interest groups focus on getting the party’s candidate elected by promoting misleading sound bites as facts.

One example is the sound bite that the poor don’t pay their share of income taxes. That’s like complaining the homeless don’t pay their share of property taxes. If we include sales tax, payroll taxes, etc., the bottom 20 percent pay twice as much in taxes as a share of their income than the top 1 percent.

So how do we get past the misinformation and get our government functioning? It starts of course with critical thinking. As voters, we have an obligation to challenge our own beliefs and be in general educated about all sides of an issue.

Thomas Jefferson perhaps summed it up best: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed.”

Another barrier to functioning is that our congressional representatives aren’t very representative of the people.

Gerrymandered districts and a primary system that favors party extremes has made it very difficult to get fair and equal representation. Fairvote: The Center for Voting and Democracy suggests districts be merged so each has three Representatives. On Election Day the three candidates with the most votes are elected. This has the potential to help create a third-party voice as well.

We may also consider an amendment changing a representative’s term from two to four years. At this point, candidates are basically raising money and running for office instead of reading and repairing laws. Since they are constantly campaigning, it’s easy to understand how they may not have time to become well-informed about all sides of an issue.

It also makes them easy prey for lobbyists with large campaign donations.

These would be giant changes and honestly aren’t likely, but hopefully, as a nation, we can begin to discuss it. We really need to find a way to have a government more representative and understanding of the needs of the people. The fate of the republic is at stake.

Brandon Givens is a Gainesville resident. His columns appear occasionally and on gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.



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