Elected officials shouldn’t avoid their constituents

Published 6:54 am Thursday, November 1, 2018


The Advocate-Messenger

There’s a disturbing trend in politics that seems to be cropping up more and more often as the country becomes more and more divided along political lines: Politicians elected to represent the people are avoiding the very people they’re supposed to be representing.

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There are plenty of examples of this right here in Boyle County:

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell has come here multiple times in recent years, but only to appear before chosen crowds of friendly faces.

There won’t be any forums or debates involving the candidates for Boyle County’s state or U.S. representative seats, apparently because the incumbents prefer to avoid such a public face-to-face.

Boyle’s current state representative also avoided a public appearance with his opponent in his last general election.

But the problem is hardly limited to Boyle County, or Kentucky’s Second District, or to one political party or the other.

When KET’s Kentucky Tonight invited all of the candidates for Kentucky’s six congressional districts to appear on TV, only one incumbent — Rep. Andy Barr — accepted. In all of the other races, the only candidates who took the opportunity to go on statewide TV and tell voters about themselves were long-shot challengers. That includes Republican challenger Vickie Yates Glisson, who is running against Kentucky’s only Democratic representative, John Yarmouth.

Like most of his Republican counterparts, Yarmouth dodged the primetime appearance.

We’re not naive about why politicians make these choices: When a politician has a healthy lead in the polls or a race isn’t considered competitive, they don’t stand to “gain” anything from public appearances. From a strictly political, win-at-all-costs perspective, the best play is to end the game while you’re ahead.

It’s the equivalent of running the ball on third and long when you’re up three touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

Except our government is not a game and the people who we elect to represent us shouldn’t be playing games. They should be throwing their support to democracy and the people’s right to choose — regardless of the outcome.

That’s a very high-minded sentiment and we won’t be surprised if you dismiss it as overly idealistic in this era of 24/7 outrage and mud-throwing.

But for as long as this country has been around, it has been guided by high-minded and overly idealistic sentiments. This country was built on the ideals that all people are equal; that everyone’s voice should be heard; that government should be run by the people, not the other way around.

We’ve not achieved much if any of that high-minded idealism throughout our history. Despite the beautiful words in our Constitution and Bill of Rights, it’s been a long, slow climb toward true equality for many minorities and marginalized groups. But at least we’ve been moving forward, pursuing the ideals that guide us, even if we never make it all the way there.

This trend toward hiding in the shadows and letting things get more and more out-of-whack is regressive and harmful; it is the opposite of the pursuit of ideals that has steered this country toward better things for so long.