Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Conservative Viewpoint
- Voter Apathy Contributes To Corruption

Article by Bob Steinburg
- Edenton, North Carolina: Cradle of the Colony

I’ve always wondered why many incumbent politicians fight to keep their legislative seats year after year. One would hope for the purest of motives, but that is not always the case. Given the recent voter apathy in primary and general elections, it’s become easier for incumbents to stay in power. This year may be different.

Being a servant of the people is a great honor and privilege. Folks have placed their confidence and trust in elected officials to spend their hard-earned tax dollars wisely and to maintain the highest degree of ethical standards.

Most legislative salaries are nothing to write home about. Compared to the corporate world they are modest and at the state and local level, these positions are often part time.

But power and influence are bigger prizes than a hefty salary. And their use ultimately will determine whether the elected official is looking after his or her own interest or that of the electorate.

Corruption and misdeeds comes in all shapes and sizes and in as many flavors as Baskin-Robbins ice cream. Some seem more spectacular than others, like the recent fall from grace of former New York Gov. Elliott Spitzer over his alleged involvement with a prostitute.

In North Carolina there have been a rash of government corruption scandals of late -- from the imprisonment of former Democratic state House Speaker Jim Black for accepting funds from chiropractors while their professional group had legislation pending in the General Assembly, to the expulsion from the General Assembly of Democrat Rep. Thomas Wright of Wilmington who was ultimately convicted of fraud. Black served 11 terms in the state house; Wright served eight terms.

In local government, the signs of corruption are often less obvious than bribery, extortion or embezzlement. While county and local legislators may not be caught with their hand in the cookie jar there are still opportunities and temptations for other forms of government corruption. Among those are nepotism and patronage.

Nepotism is the practice of favoring a group or relative when giving jobs, promotions, raises, benefits and the like. It may often have little to do with experience and or qualifications but instead on the idea that the benefactor’s interests will be protected.

Likewise, the patronage system consists in granting favors, contracts or appointments in exchange for political support. Patronage bypasses the formal rules of local government and use personal instead of formalized channels to gain an advantage.

As a result, contracts often are awarded to less qualified individuals and companies and political appointments go to cronies.

While laws may not be actually broken they can be bent to benefit the few and the privileged. This is not the way open, honest and transparent government is supposed to work. Whoever said “to the victor go the spoils” certainly never intended that elected and/or their appointed officials would line their own pockets.

In recent years voter apathy is probably the biggest contributing factor to corruption. By neglecting to vote, the folks are in effect saying, “Yeah, we know things might not be perfect, but what differences can our vote make?” Actually a great deal.

We have a primary election in North Carolina on May 6. Primaries here are notorious for low voter turnouts but with hotly contested races for president and governor, the turnout is expected to be huge. New-voter registrations are at an all- time high and there appears to be a plethora of enthusiasm. Voters in many local races in the primary have a choice for the first time in a long time.

On May 6 “we the people” have a chance to really make a difference from the top of the ticket down. We have an opportunity to elect folks who are committed to making our government work better for us.

Good government requires the participation of everyone, not just at election time but throughout the year. Without increased and consistent citizen involvement we augment the risk of having an ineffective, self- serving government that will take what it can and only give what it must.

Voter apathy is a serious problem. "They all do it" is an attitude of cynacism that has resulted in very low turnout for citizens in our elections. This allows the greedy and those who wish to get something from government to dominate our politics. It is leading us with certainty to a tyranical future of socialism and redistribution of wealth. Loss of individual freedom is the end result. Why do people become so indifferent to the permanent war needed to retain their freedom?

There is a famous quote. "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty". It has been attributed to Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and Wendell Phillips. I believe whoever first said it, they are correct. Another quote along the same lines is "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants". This one is Thomas Jefferson.

Americans appear no longer willing to fight for freedom. Freedom warriors are no where to be found. And with that loss of patriots willing to fight for freedom we all lose our freedom as well.

How sad is that?


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