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Hopes Dashed, Time to Move on with Change

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By Lowell L. Kalapa

     As the 1998 session winds down, it would be well worthwhile to reflect on the events of the session and the consequences it will have for taxpayers..

While the convening of the Economic Revitalization Task Force placed a spotlight on the most critical issues, the way it was convened and how decisions were made reaffirmed the public’s distrust of government and elected officials. In what should have been a meeting of the brightest and the best to solve the problem of a waning economy, the exercise became one of exclusivity, with only those who had the clout and the wallet to gain entry.



  While the current leaders would like to think that they are leading, they are obviously out of touch, if not out of step, with the people who they think they are leading.        And when accused of being exclusive, the elected officials threw the exercise open to 150 folks from “every walk” of life who were asked to spend hours upon hours of time in devoted discussion of the issues. The Task Force promptly turned around and ignored every piece of advice given. Again, it was a confirmation that those in the driver’s seat really don’t give a damn about what the community believes should be done. Is it any wonder that the public remains cynical about those in office?

And then there is the disbelief of those on the Task Force who were amazed at the Republican’s opposition to the general excise tax increase. Did the Task Force members ever ask why Republicans were not even asked to sit on the “community-wide” workshop groups let alone on the Task Force?

Similarly, when the dog and pony show was taken on the road to get the input of the community, what happened? Again, people came out and took the time to share their thoughts and opinions. Do you think the Task Force listened? Why should they? After all, they know better. And sure enough when they returned to the cloistered halls of the state capitol, they stood by their work product and refused to make any changes.

Only when the ship looked like it was sinking were changes made by the politicians. Many observers wondered how the private members of the Task Force felt about these changes after telling the public that this was a “package” that had to be taken as a whole or not at all. So much for solidarity and commitment.

Then there is the session itself. It can almost be likened to a three-act comedy of errors. There is the first act where lawmakers show their concern and take the public input at open hearings and allow the man on the street to share his concerns. The average citizen comes away from the first act with great joy thinking lawmakers have actually listened.

Ah, what fools are we! The second act proves that lawmakers already had their minds made up as they lay out their positions. Again, there is the ritualistic dance of public hearings and committee discussions and again the public hopes that changes will be made because of their input. But reality quickly dawns like a sledgehammer over the head as lawmakers gut and stuff legislation, taking bills from the opposite house and dumping the contents only to replace them with provisions of bills they had sent over earlier to the opposite house.

Thus, while the public would like to believe that lawmakers continue to improve upon legislation as it moves through the maze, the second half of the session is nothing more than an exercise of searching for an appropriate bill title into which the opposite house can stuff all of its proposals. So much for public deliberation and constant improvement of the laws that will govern us.

So what have we learned from this exercise? The indisputable fact of the matter is that there is a real lack of leadership in this state. While the current leaders would like to think that they are leading, they are obviously out of touch, if not out of step, with the people who they think they are leading. Instead of being interested in the good of the people, it appears that this generation of leaders is more interested in being re-elected than in making the hard decisions.

Some may ask: How dare you accuse our community leaders of not leading! What proof is there? Given that everybody agrees the economy and tax relief are the NUMBER ONE issues, it seems almost laughable that our lawmakers are considering legislation requiring dog houses for your pet. One can almost hear the violins and smell the charred debris.

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