A Declaration of Inter-Dependence
By William Smithers
The government of Santa Barbara is a government of all its people.
In 2002, the California Voting Rights Act authorized municipalities and other publicly-elected bodies to govern themselves via so-called “district elections,” by means of which citizens having majority cultural population in certain neighborhoods, but who constitute a minority in the overall community, have the right to vote for, and elect, a representative to their governing body.
Many state communities and electoral bodies have adopted this form of governance, usually mandating in a municipality that its mayor be chosen by a vote of all its people, with other representatives on the governing body chosen by district vote.
This form of government has the benefit - and strength - of giving cultural minorities at least roughly proportional representation in their governance.
Its weakness is that it relies on the character of district electees to conduct themselves in a manner evidencing their respect for, and needs of, those community citizens not in their districts.
Though our government is a government of all its people, its success and equitable functioning begin to rot when any of its district representatives pointedly and repeatedly refuses to accept responsibility to deal with problems affecting all, or other, parts of the community.
Throughout history, we know this recognition and support for community inter-dependence as the common good: “ … that which benefits society as a whole, in contrast to the private good of individuals and sections of society.”
If state law permits the sale and use of liquor, or of tobacco, should your district representative – or any - fight to prevent a store selling these to be licensed in his/her district? If recreational/medical use of marijuana is legalized, should any district representative fight to prevent relevant facilities from existing in his/her district; should any representative try to create legal conditions making such locations impossible to create? Would this be a commitment to the common good?
If sewer lines erupt; if storms throw trees, boulders and debris across city neighborhoods; if spilled chemicals threaten the lives or health of Santa Barbarans, should your district representative - or any - refuse to authorize monies to deal with these because they don't occur in his/her district? If foul odor, water contamination, environmental degradation and wildlife diminution threaten the health and reasonable comfort of Santa Barbarans in one area of the city, should a representative of another area refuse to help provide funds to eliminate or ameliorate the problem? Would this be contributing to the common good?
Unfortunately, community irresponsibility of just this kind is happening in Santa Barbara, especially by one of the first to be honored with governmental authority via the new district election system. In my view, this behavior should be noticed, criticized, condemned and, eventually, repudiated by voters who care about the fairness of the system that governs them.
This has nothing to with debate over measures affecting all our citizens: housing, taxes, zoning, election laws, community-wide transportation or environmental concerns, economic prosperity, etc. This has nothing to do with likes/dislikes of anyone's personality.
This is a Declaration of Inter-Dependence. This is a reminder that if District X residents want others in the community to consider their problems and needs, they had better be sure their elected representative is exhibiting that concern for others. This is a reminder that District Y and Z residents should understand whether District X's representative is refusing to support funding to address serious problems in their communities. Everyone should know, or find out, which of their government's district representatives demonstrate commitment to legislate for the entire community: the “common good.”
This is an appeal to any fair-minded Santa Barbaran to hold accountable any district representative who makes a habit of ignoring the concerns and needs of those who didn't actually vote for him, but whom he has pledged to represent.
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