In the late 80s and early 90s I made the civic club rounds delivering a dramatic speech designed to activate citizen involvement in government affairs. With my math background, I couched the speech as a proposition with 10 corollaries.
The proposition was “don’t trust government.” The 10 corollaries were: 1) Don’t count on government to look after your best interests. 2) Government seldom matches its words with its deeds. 3) Campaigns are designed to and government is prone to mislead you. 4) Government is prone to corruption. 5) Corrupt people tend to succeed in government. 6) Government grows readily, but prunes poorly. 7) Government responds to pressure, not to facts or needs. 8) The principal motivation in government is self-preservation. 9) People in government generally are more interested in power and prestige than good government. 10) Government doesn’t create wealth, it redistributes it inefficiently.
The speech drew upon examples from my life experiences – congressional legislative assistant, political reporter covering the Mississippi Senate, reporter and/or editor covering local government in 11 counties all over Mississippi, senior staff member in two U.S. Senate and two Governor campaigns, political party chairman in two different counties, elected official as a state representative, and senior officer in a highly regulated industry, banking.
I would conclude the speech with this line, “You shouldn't trust government because government sure as h… doesn't trust you.”
After another 30 years in and around government – IHL board, community college and state agency official, two governor task forces, non-profit executive, and federal grant project manager – I still believe a motivated citizenry is essential. As Corollary 7 indicates, government does not work well unless citizens constantly, almost daily, press on it to do better.
In the speech I recommended two things to help make government do better: “1) Limit the terms of all government officials. Our democratic republic is based on controlled revolution – the ballot box was supposed to promote turnover of non-representative government (not insurrection). The power of incumbency, the lack of accountability, and the influence of money on our elections have eroded this protection. Let's shore it up by limiting terms.” This would limit elected officials' opportunities for corruption and make government, once again, more of a place for service rather than ambition.
“2) Provide a referendum procedure at all levels of government. I never thought I would advocate referendums. But, it's clear government will not and cannot police itself, rid itself of useless programs, or contain its spending tendencies. I have more faith in the people than I do in government. I would rather trust the people through a practical, conservative referendum process than I would government.”
That final point is the purpose of all this reminiscing. Mississippi needs a practical, conservative referendum process to address issues the Legislature will not.
We had one but it has been upended by a Mississippi Supreme Court ruling on a technicality.
Golly gee, government leaders have been in no hurry to fix that. Oh, they have made some noise but taken no action. They won’t unless and until they feel a growing fervor of dissatisfaction from citizens across the state.
“And let us not grow weary of doing good” – 2 Thessalonians 3:13.
Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Jackson.