by John Ager, District 115 North Carolina House of Representatives
I am writing to you all on May 18th after our monumental effort to agree and vote on the revised North Carolina budget for the next fiscal year (2016-2017, July 1 to June 30). I voted in favor of the budget in large part because there were finally some salary increases for teachers, state workers and state retirees. There was also some additional money for the Farmland Preservation program, which is near and dear to my heart. There was another income tax deduction via a stepped increase of the standard deduction.
A budget is always full of items you like and do not like. This budget is adequate to the needs of North Carolina, but without much vision of a state seeking excellence in infrastructure, health care and education. The House budget will now go to the Senate, where it is likely to be changed in many respects, and then to the governor. Perhaps by the time this article is published, North Carolina will have its final budget.
Wrangling a budget of over $22 billion by a part-time legislature is no small feat, and it requires above all a lot of compromise. Just after the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia was over in 1787, a lady famously asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got — a Republic or a Monarchy?” “A Republic,” he replied, “if you can keep it.”
It is hard for us realize today how radical a form of government our “Republic” was in 1787. The leaders of the day were steeped in classical Greece and Rome, and revered the democracies of antiquity. Athens was the ideal. As the Roman Empire grew, it became more brutal and subjugating in its rule. In 1787, there was a fear that the uneducated common man would destroy the American Republic, and the harsh discipline served up by Washington and his army in response to the Whiskey Rebellion was meant to serve notice that the Federal government would not tolerate the flouting of its laws.
Now we are a nation of 330 million citizens, and it seems the Republic is straining under the weight of terrible dysfunction. The governments in Washington and Raleigh both seem little admired by its citizens. Our presidential political season has been disruptive and unpredictable to say the least, and we all wonder how it will turn out and where it will leave us as a nation seeking great leadership.
I would like to paraphrase a David Brooks article, “The Governing Cancer of Our Time,” to make some sense out of our current situation.
Brooks begins by stating that governing 330 million people with a wide range of interests, ethnic allegiances, political values, and wealth disparities in a rapidly changing economic world of technology and global competition is a daunting task to say the least. Maintaining order can only be accomplished in two ways: a politics of compromise or a dictatorship; a Republic or a Monarchy as posed to Dr. Franklin. Our founding fathers chose the politics of compromise, which can be frustrating and maddeningly slow and messy. It requires an ongoing political debate and it requires the citizens to participate. No one ever gets exactly what they want.
I truly believe that our democracy works best when the political parties are balanced so that real debate and competition has a better chance of creating good policy. The alternative is rule by violence, which always means “my way or the highway.”
Over the past generation, there have been people who are against the politics of compromise, who want to elect outsiders with no political experience and who disrupt the customs and rules that civilize and legitimatize legislative decision making. They want total victories for themselves and their ideology. They are what Brooks calls political narcissists. And he says this “antipolitics” has poisoned our democracy into a downward spiral. Incompetent political leaders create dysfunctional governing, which leads to voter frustration and the election of more “outsiders.” Cynicism corrodes public trust, and a society that does not trust its institutions and its political system begins to rot. Many politicians live in fear of compromise, and when that happens, we begin to lose our beloved Republic.
I sit here in my modest office here in Raleigh, and it is almost ten at night. My Town Crier article is past deadline. I am the last one here besides my friend, the cleaning lady. Just a few moments ago, Nelson Dollar, who led the Republican effort the last two days to pass this budget, saw me sitting here and came by to thank me for my vote. For me, it was a small gesture of political civility that gives me hope that yes, Dr. Franklin, we are going to be able to keep our Republic for another generation.
John Ager’s Contact:
NC House of Representatives
16 West Jones St, Room 1004,
Raleigh NC 27601-1096
John.Ager@ncleg.net or email@example.com
628-2616 / 713-6450