Make Rand Paul’s visit to Danville successful, not strategic

Published 7:31 pm Friday, July 19, 2019


The Advocate-Messenger

If Sen. Rand Paul is able to make an appearance in Danville next month, we hope it can be a productive event and a good example of representative democracy in action.

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Senators hold an immense amount of power — after all, there are only 100 of them and there are more than 327 million people in the U.S. Unfortunately, with great power often comes a significant disconnect from the people those with power are supposed to represent.

Events like what is tentatively planned for Aug. 21 in Danville can be one way to help maintain that connection and keep people like Sen. Paul grounded in reality. Paul is one of 100 and he will be talking with a few dozen of the 327 million.

But events like this can also be more about show than substance. They can be choreographed to look meaningful, but in reality provide disconnected politicians with cover by letting them claim they are listening to average people.

We are hopeful Paul’s visit can be the former, rather than the latter. Here are some ways we think a successful, rather than strategic meeting can happen:

• A wide net should be cast for those invited to attend, including people from all political sides; members of business and nonprofit ventures; moral leaders and members of Boyle County’s faith community; representatives from every geographic region; and people from low-income families and those struggling against drug addiction — community members who often don’t get much of a voice in how their government operates.

• The meeting ought to borrow the Danville City Commission’s wildly successful blueprint for public comments. The commission hears all comments on specific agenda items, and then separately hears public comments on any topic not on the agenda. This is an excellent format that keeps comments largely focused on relevant, important topics; but also allows for the possibility that someone has something important to say on a topic others haven’t thought of.

• Paul should ask the Boyle County community in advance of his arrival what it wants to talk about, and share some about what he’s interested in talking about. That would allow Paul to be ready with good information relevant to Boyle County residents’ questions and concerns; and also allow Boyle County residents to be ready to provide their thoughts on what Paul considers important.

• The event should be designed to acknowledge and hear dissent or protest, without allowing the dissent and protest to take over or make fruitful discussion impossible. This is certainly the most difficult item on this list to accomplish, and we’ll admit we’re not entirely sure ourselves how to pull it off. But it could also be the most beneficial in terms of holding true to our American democratic ideals.

Perhaps someone from a group that strongly opposes Paul’s positions could be invited to give a statement at the end of the meeting, and then Paul could offer a response if he chooses.

However it happens, we think it’s important that Paul hears from those who agree and disagree with him. It’s the senator’s job to hear from the people who elected him. Then, it’s his job to make tough decisions informed by those opinions and the facts, knowing that whatever he decides will not please many of those he represents.

Paul needs to complete that first step and hear from those who disagree with him, in order to lend strong legitimacy to the tough decisions he makes.