Opinion | Susan Knopf: Government must engage, not dictate to, the public
For the Record
There’s a picture floating around on Facebook of horses sheltering under a table and chairs. The caption reads, “This farm owner was denied a council permit to build a horse shelter. Fortunately, you don’t need a permit to build a table and chairs.”
For the record, the photograph is real; the story is not. The Time magazine archive says a German wood merchant built the furniture to promote his business. I considered the possibility the caption was true. That’s how ridiculous government overreach is. We expect the ridiculous to be true.
Fiester Preserve is such a tale. How did county officials think it would be a good idea to push through a project against the people’s will? The win-win is so obvious in this case that it’s hard to comprehend how poor communication derailed us. Why weren’t town hall meetings called early in the process? Why not get local buy-in crafting a gorgeous, landscaped senior/recuperative facility that is sustained with its own workforce housing and tied together beautifully with a new enlarged, dedicated conservation easement that includes a transfer of title? Seems obvious. Except when government forgets its bond with the people.
We’ve seen this before. The part-time vacation rental market is straying into such an area. The Colorado Legislature considered Senate Bill 20-109 that would have raised the property tax rate on residential housing used primarily for rentals. Second-home owners and Realtors cried foul. I know locals who think this is a good proposal. They ask, why should businesspeople get a tax break intended for primary residence homeowners? Governance is not an either/or. It’s a balancing act.
A better question is, how can government do a better job connecting to its employer, the people. “Government of the people, by the people, for the people,” which we generally attribute to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, has a long and storied past. In 1384, John Wycliffe penned the now-famous words in the prologue of his bible translation. The Washington Post reports that almost 500 years later, Theodore Parker used it in a sermon. Lincoln’s law partner heard the sermon in Boston in 1858 and returned to Springfield, Illinois, with Parker’s speeches and writings. He shared these with Lincoln. Law partner William Herndon wrote that Lincoln highlighted Parker’s phrase in pencil.
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Are you as amazed as I am that an English theologian’s words from more than 600 years ago are now an indelible part of our American ethos? We are a country that did not exist at that time and that Wycliffe might not have imagined even in his wildest dreams. Yet we are, perhaps unknowingly, shaped idealistically by a man more than 600 years our senior.
Truth has a way of bubbling to the surface and persisting. The truth of the Mueller report persists. Those who have tried to bury it will find the winds of truth persistently reveal its veracity. Trump can do his own bidding, pardoning criminals like former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich who tried to sell President Barack Obama’s Senate seat, or junk bond king Mike Milken, who bilked people out of hard-earned savings. In the end, truth prevails, and consequences are meted out.
We persist in our belief in “government of the people, by the people and for the people.” Some of us are disillusioned that it does not exist and cannot exist. Over time, sometimes a long time, truth, righteousness and dignity prevail.
Democratic presidential frontrunner Bernie Sanders is pursuing truth, but he might be slipping into the abyss of government overreach. We have been demanding our government solve our health care crisis. But we the people have not decided what that looks like. We know we are paying two times what most other developed nations pay for health care. We know other countries pay less, have universal health care and have better health care outcomes for their citizens. We still can’t decide what to do.
We have 626 health care systems according to our government. Much money is lost to complexity, administration and greed. No question we need to standardize the system and create efficiencies. Medicare is one of the most efficient systems in the U.S., but is it a one-size-fits-all?
Some people are happy with their health care, and they don’t want it scrapped in favor of government-run, single-payer, universal health care, even if it does save money and gives more people better access and outcomes.
When government decides what’s best for the people, against the will of the people, that is government overreach. We need government to balance all interests and engage the public, not dictate to the public.
Susan Knopf’s column “For The Record” publishes Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Knopf has worn many hats in her career, including working as an award-winning journalist and certified ski instructor. She moved to Silverthorne in 2013 after vacationing in Summit County since the 1970s. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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