After months of political turmoil in the Democratic Party nationwide, the political landscape is beginning to return to a state of tranquility. While our presumptive presidential nominees, U.S. Senators John McCain and Barack Obama, search for their ideal running mates, we must use this brief pause to heal the partisan bickering (ironically, intra-party bickering) gripping our federal and state governments. At both the national and state levels, it appears that our lawmakers have taken a public policy recess to focus on campaigning for their candidate of choice.
At a moment when energy prices are soaring, food costs are skyrocketing and people are watching their life savings dwindle in a volatile stock market, it appears that it’s now time to step out of the 24/7 campaign mode and return to governing our great nation and state.
The question that is on the minds of many Delawareans is how should we heal our national, state and local wounds and return to the business of governing the people of this union. Though there is no easy answer to this question, the purpose of this month’s Paine Corner is to propose a few simple ideas to heal those wounds and refocus our attention on the important task of governing.
First, we must understand that this contemporary era of partisan divide has weakened the vibrancy of our country and, yes, our state. In the Federalist Papers, our founding fathers warned our infant nation to beware of political factions (i.e., political parties), because such vehicles could cause prolonged stalemates in a system of government embedded with “checks and balances.” Even though the founding fathers often disagreed, they usually managed to rise above their differences by taking action and not using partisan disputes to stall important policy debates. In other words, the default position during those historic times was to vote and take action, rather than to stall and encourage inaction. From blocking judicial appointments to tabling important bills, it seems that entrenched partisan positions have crippled our lawmakers’ ability to govern. Governance, by definition, requires a sense of action; to the extent such partisan divisions thwart this purpose, those elected to serve the public are, in fact, failing the public. Thus, the end of the partisan divide is necessary to restoring our national and state vibrancy.
Second, due to the size and location of our great state, governance can no longer be conducted by a part-time legislature. Though I admire the amount of work our legislature conducts during its January-to-June legislative cycle, this limited amount of time reduces the ability of our lawmakers to fully conduct the state’s business. The business of the people of Delaware is not part-time. Our small size and location in the competitive Northeast underlines the importance of ensuring that sufficient time is allocated to governance. Additionally, if the legislative cycle is expanded, the last-minute rush to pass major bills during the waning days of June would be avoided (it is really troubling to watch lawmakers pass bills impacting our daily livelihood without having sufficient time to read them). During the remaining six months of each calendar year, our lawmakers should work, cooperatively, to plan a strategic vision for the state. Then, and only then, will an environment conducive to the ideal form of governance emerge in Legislative Hall.
Finally, we must begin to train and promote a new generation of policy leaders. How often do we see a new name emerge in our state (or national) political arena? (Note that part of the inherent strength of Senator Obama’s campaign is his name does not end with Clinton or Bush). Though it is admirable for individuals to dedicate their lives to public service, such experience must not come at the expense of new thinking, ideas and principles. We must allow innovative ideas of governance to emerge by ensuring that those tasked with governing represent all aspects of our state’s socio-economic environment. Both political parties must train and promote our state’s future leaders and in doing so, highlight the failures of partisan division in 21st century governing. By doing this, Delaware will not only receive the benefit of innovative leaders and thinking, but we may also avoid repeating some of our past failures in governance.
As you reflect upon these ideas of healing and governance at this critical moment in history, we should be mindful of the astute words of former President Theodore Roosevelt: “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” The time has come for our lawmakers to do the right thing by healing our wounds and return to conducting the important business of the people.
After all, common sense must prevail.
Chipman L. Flowers Jr., Esq. is President and Managing Member of The Flowers Counsel Group, LLC, a law firm specializing in corporate law. Mr. Flowers is active in national, state and local politics and is the chief Democratic political analyst for WHYY’s Delaware Tonight.
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