‘Legislative coffee’ a sign of healthy democracy in action

Published 5:14 am Thursday, February 13, 2020


The Advocate-Messenger

This week, Boyle County’s state senator and representative spent more than two hours in Danville, speaking first with city officials and local safety advocates about pedestrian safety issues downtown; then fielding questions from their constituents during Mayor Mike Perros’ annual “legislative coffee” event.

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Rep. Daniel Elliott (R-Danville) and Sen. Rick Girdler (R-Somerset) should be commended for making time during a busy budget session in Frankfort to not only share their perspectives with local residents, but also to listen to those residents’ concerns. The legislative coffee wasn’t a partisan event and attendees weren’t screened — anyone from the public was welcome to attend and participate.

Too many politicians these days hide among friends whenever they hold events intended to give the appearance that they are making themselves available to their constituents. U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, for example, has been to Danville multiple times in recent years, but has only appeared before invited, friendly groups of people.

It’s not a bad thing to hang out with your friends. But hanging out with friends is not your job if you’ve been elected to represent the will of the people — in the Kentucky capitol, in Washington, D.C. or in your hometown.

Legislators have a duty to hear from their constituents — the ones who like them and the ones who don’t. That doesn’t mean they have to agree with dissenters or vote against what they believe in, but it does mean they must respect all of their constituents’ viewpoints enough to listen with an open mind.

As Rep. Elliott correctly pointed out at Monday’s legislative coffee, if voters don’t like the choices their elected officials are making, they can choose new elected officials in the next election.

This is the democratic system we have put in place and which we believe can serve everyone well when done right. Disagreements should not be hidden or grudges held; political opponents should not be silenced. There should be respect from all sides, and efforts from all sides to see the humanity and good intentions of their political enemies.

When they listen to their critics, those in power can be made into better leaders who consider all the implications of their actions. Their decisions become more informed and they actually become more likely to gain support from those who may not have supported them before.

That’s a far healthier way for democracy to function than when leaders quarantine themselves from detractors and consolidate power among only their loyal supporters.

We’re happy to see the legislative coffee tradition continue, because it shows that Danville’s and Boyle County’s legislators and residents continue to serve as shining examples of how healthy, democratic government can function.

Mayor Perros said it well in comments that bookended Monday’s event.

“In this day and age of rancor … we’re not going to do that in Danville,” he said as he welcomed everyone to city hall. “We may be passionate about (an issue), but we won’t be rude about it.”

When the event had concluded, Perros thanked those who participated for making it successful.

“This is what our community is about,” he said. “It’s the best part of our community.”

We agree.