The other day I was in the grocery store with several of my children doing my weekly grocery shop. As often happens, I was stopped by a constituent to discuss a concern. There among peanut butter, bread and frozen vegetables, I listened attentively about a mother’s concern for her son and the municipal issues that were important to her. Fortunately for me, my children are used to getting stopped and have learned the gentle patience that is often difficult for children who are only steps away from the ice cream isle.
As our conversation ended and the woman began to move on, the patience of my children was starting to break. Just then, the concerned mother looked at them and stated with a smile, “Remember kids to be good for daddy. He’s a very important man.” While I smiled politely and hurried on, there was something that just wasn’t sitting well with me. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but later thinking back, I would.
In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson declared, “[If the] representative houses [are dissolved,]… the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, [return] to the people at large for their exercise.”
Our country was founded on the principle that the ultimate power of government rests in the people. The lesson is clear. Elected officials are not important people. What is important is that they represent the people.
With the elections of 2016 now behind us, here in Maine a mixture of newly elected officials, along with those returning for another term, will be headed to Augusta and municipal offices throughout the state.
Here in Waterville, we have two new city councilors and two school board members, following a historic tax revolt that was a grassroots movement of the people. In Augusta, legislators will be back after a summer that included a failed coup by partisan democrats to overthrow Governor LePage after they failed to produce any policy gains in the face of real and working reforms.
From resistance to tax and welfare reform to the nefarious efforts to expand Medicaid by members of both parties in Augusta, and an attempt to ignore the plight of overburdened taxpayers here in Waterville, politicians elected this year have – or should have – much expected of them.
Two hundred and forty years after the writing of the Declaration of Independence, elected officials have too many times strayed from understanding that we are not elected to wield a power of our own. Rather, the power that we wield is that of the people we represent. If in trying to represent one person we find policies that take from another, it is impossible to say that we are representing “the people.”
In such circumstances politicians represent only their pride and the slavery of the taxpayer.
However you feel about the results of this election, I am hopeful for the future of my city and the state of Maine. I’m hopeful because I have seen firsthand the power of the forgotten people who take seriously that the power should be returned “to the people at large for their exercise.”
To the kind woman I spoke with in the grocery store, I hope you too realize I’m not an important person because I’m the mayor of Waterville. I’m an important person because of the great trust and duty afforded me by the so much more important people that I represent.
Let us hope that all of Maine’s elected officials pause to realize the same.