Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Day After Yesterday

I went to the polls early yesterday morning to cast my vote for our representation for the state of New Mexico  I vote at an elementary school surrounded by cotton fields.  I think I was voter number 7; the poll watcher told me that there are only 200 registered voters in the small farming community district where I am registered to vote, but that turnout had been good. "We are busy--for us" she smiled.  As I sat watching the returns last night, I was not disappointed--I was proud to watch Susana Martinez win her race and become the first female governor in the history of the state of New Mexico and the first Latina governor in the history of the U.S.  I was even prouder to have been able to support with my vote a woman who has worked hard for her community and who ran on a platform of reducing the size of government and creating a business-friendly climate in my home state. 

Last night's election brought in sweeping changes for the House of Representatives with the largest pick up of seats by the GOP since the 1930's and the largest pick up by any party since the 1940's.   And as the final Senate Races are tallied and the winners and losers are identified, pundits will argue over what this change will mean for the country.  In the final days leading up to the election, many experts were using words like "stalemate" and  "gridlock" to describe what we can expect to see--in other words a whole lot of inaction for two years.  As far as I am concerned, inactivity on future bills would be an improvement over what we have seen in terms of spending and government intrusion.

I have always voted since I was eighteen.  My parents taught me that voting was my civic duty and responsibility as an American.  But I did not approach this election with the hope and enthusiasm that many people I know had.  My skepticism was not because I did not expect a victory for "our side."  It was rather a skepticism that is born out of a basic distrust of all politicians of all colors and stripes.  That skepticism comes largely from having worked on grassroots lobbies with the National Association of Mortgage Brokers for many years.  My six years of going to Washington D.C. to plead my case to my representatives taught me mainly that our representatives don't care much about us or our issues--regardless of what they tell us during the campaigns.  So I tend to take a very cynical approach to politics.

However, I do believe that there are lessons even for the cynic from last night's election.  We as a people have the unique ability to choose our own form of government, and to steer that government by voting out the people who pass laws we find unacceptable.  And at the end of the day, having the power to hire and fire our representatives is no small thing.  I recently heard a quote by Sam Walton that the customer is the most important person in the organization because he can fire everyone from the CEO on down simply by choosing to shop elsewhere.  If we apply that logic to politics, then the voting citizen becomes the most important person in the Republic.  Alone, we may not be able to do much, but together we can make changes which can reverberate from a small farming community in southern New Mexico all the way to the ornate walls of the Capitol.  That is heady stuff--and real responsibility. 

That responsibility does not end when the final votes are counted and the last of the races are called.  Yesterday's race saw huge turnout for an off year election.  The voting citizens got out and voted because they are concerned about the direction of the country.  But merely voting in different people won't change the direction of the country unless we as the citizens stay informed and involved.  We need to let every politician on every level know what we expect from him or her, and we need to hold each one accountable.  No failure; no excuses.   Government by the people, of the people, for the people works only when the people stay involved and engaged.

We also need to understand our role as the private citizen.  It is not the government's place to take care of us and solve all of our problems.  Our responsibility is to vote in qualified individuals who will protect our rights so that we can take care of ourselves and solve our own problems.  The government cannot give us jobs or make our businesses prosper, but it can create a framework of regulations and taxation which will allow us to create jobs and grow our businesses.  We can demand fiscal responsibility from our leaders so that we as a nation can reduce our national debt, but reducing our own personal debt is going to require fiscal responsibility from each of us personally. 

Lt. Col. Allen West  (R. Fl). got it exactly right in his acceptance speech last night, "I go to protect your life, to protect your liberty, to protect your pursuit of happiness, because the only people who can guarantee your happiness are each and every one of you."  We should expect no more, and no less, of every person in government.

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