The Outsider 

The great reconnect

News flash: A large majority of Americans now feel disconnected from government! At least, that's the conclusion that New York Times columnist Bob Herbert reached after examining the results of a poll commissioned by the Council for Excellence in Government. That is, apparently, one of those Washington think tanks where people with advanced degrees are paid big money to ponder noble and nebulous thoughts.

According to the poll, over two-thirds of us feel "distant and disconnected" from government. That's hardly surprising; what's truly remarkable is that 30 percent of respondents feel "close and connected" to government. Ah, well; no doubt they either work for government at some level or receive some sort of entitlement check. Nothing like cold, hard cash to make you feel all warm and fuzzy.

Anyway, why do most of us feel disconnected from government? I suspect that two of the most significant sources of citizen alienation are campaign finance and unresponsive elected officials.

Money talks; the rest of us walk. When Congress, in its wisdom, passed the RICO statutes, which imposed severe penalties on so-called "racketeering-influenced and corrupt organizations," the lawmakers declared a single organization immune from prosecution under the statute. And what organization was that? Right! Congress itself. Lucky for them, since our legislators do little but collect bribes (in the guise of "campaign contributions") and distribute favors.

Meanwhile, most of our elected officials, at least at the state and national levels, seem to be wholly disconnected from the majority of their constituents. For instance, every poll shows that overwhelming majorities of Coloradans want tough gun controls and strong environmental protection. The overwhelming majority of legislators, by contrast, want just the opposite. Why so? Because Republican legislators are selected by a de facto electoral college of a few thousand ultraconservatives who control the nomination process.

And what can we do about it? Nothing? That's what I would have said a couple of weeks ago, until I read two proposals for change.

The first is a proposal to reform campaign finance by requiring that contributions be made anonymously. Every candidate for office would have a blind trust, which would disburse contributions. You could contribute to the candidate of your choice, but he or she would have no way of knowing who had contributed. Once elected, they'd have no campaign debts to pay off with legislative suck-ups to -- they could actually try to represent their constituents. Special interests might stop funding campaigns, (if you can't buy a candidate, why bother?), and politicians could do their jobs, instead of non-stop fundraising.

The second proposal comes from one of my favorite pols, Gov. Jesse Ventura. He wants to amend the Minnesota Constitution to replace the present bicameral legislature (House and Senate, just like Colorado) with a single body, chosen in non-partisan elections. Predictably, the majority party in the legislature (Dems) hates the idea; the minority likes it.

Imagine a similar initiative on our state ballot; it'd pass in a heartbeat.

Then, instead of brain-dead party wheelhorses representing us in Denver (read: nearly our entire, utterly embarrassing legislative delegation), we'd have folks like Ted Eastburn, Randy Purvis, Richard Skorman and Mary Lou Makepeace. We'd have reasonable, responsive, intelligent and capable government.

And I'd still make fun of it. Unless, of course, they sent me a check ...


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