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Archive | Voices and Views

Practicing politics at a high level – part 1

By Lee H. Hamilton, former U.S. Representative and Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government

 Over a lifetime in politics, I’ve met a lot of interesting, impressive politicians. But those I truly admired were men and women who were adept at the arts both of politics and legislating — a rare combination of talents. They’re a reminder these days of what consummate skill looks like.

Wilbur Mills, a Democrat from Arkansas who chaired the House Ways and Means Committee, was a master of legislative detail. When Mills was on the floor, it was never really an equal debate, because his grasp of the internal revenue code was so overwhelming.

Jim Wright of Texas and Hale Boggs of Louisiana, also both Democrats, were great orators with vibrant, unique voices. They seldom referred to notes, but I suspect they practiced — the chuckle in the right place, the extended pause at the perfect moment.

Edith Green, a Democrat from Oregon, was a potent force behind Title IX, the 1972 law that did so much to end sex discrimination in education. Green, too, was a highly effective debater, who had a keen sense of when the time was right to wage a fight. She paved the way for many talented women who followed her.

Charlie Halleck of Indiana and H.R. Gross of Iowa, both Republican, were parliamentary masters who could stall or just plain defeat legislation by the adroit use of just the right parliamentary maneuver. John Anderson of Illinois served as the principal Republican voice at a time when the GOP was in the minority. He was a powerful debater and took delight in verbal combat, while making plain his devotion to the nation.

You couldn’t call Tip O’Neill, the legendary Speaker of the House from Massachusetts, a great orator. But he was a truly great politician. He had a knack for putting people at ease, calming tensions, and softening debates.

Mike Mansfield, the Senate Majority Leader from Montana, had similar gifts. He was decent, humble, fair-minded, and spread credit to everyone around him while taking none for himself.

Finally, Speaker Carl Albert of Oklahoma somehow managed to unite northeastern liberals and southern conservatives in his party. They opposed one another in ideology and culture, yet Albert often reconciled the irreconcilable with grace and insight. He listened patiently to people, trying to understand their points of view, patch things up, and find even the tiniest plot of ground for consensus.

 Next: What they all had in common.

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar of the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

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What’s in a name?

By Judy Reed

Shakespeare tried to answer that question in Romeo and Juliet. “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”

I don’t know if the Sand Lake Fire Chief would agree with that, nor do I know whether he smells sweet. When I see him at a fire scene, the air smells like burning wood and so does everyone else. The acrid odor of smoke fills your nostrils and burns your eyes and gets in your hair and I usually leave feeling like I need to take a shower. No sweet smell of roses there.

Recently, he and his crew, along with the Cedar Springs Fire Department, fought a fire in Nelson Township where many animals died. I wrote about it in last week’s Post. When I write about something like that, I try to identify the person with their job title and their name. And when you read it, you think, oh yeah, I know him, or her. The problem is, you might not have recognized the name of the Sand Lake Fire Chief in last week’s paper. Or maybe you sort of did. 

While banging out that story on my trusty keyboard last week I morphed the current Sand Lake Fire Chief (Ed Holtzlander) with the former Fire Chief (Bob Hawkins) from about 7 or 8 years ago. Yes, that’s right. I called him Fire Chief Ed Hawkins.

Ed called and ribbed me about it. I couldn’t believe I did it. Why that name popped out of my brain and on to the page I’ll never know. I can only guess that it’s because I’ve been at this job for a long time (12 years full time and 12 years part time before that) and I have seen a lot of people come and go. I apologized for the error. Thanks, Ed, for taking it in stride. Look at the bright side: at least I had two chiefs from the same fire department. It could have been worse—I could’ve typed “Ed Fraser” or something, and then I would have had some explaining to do to both you and Marty! (Marty Fraser is the Fire Chief in Cedar Springs.)

As I said, I don’t know about smelling sweet, but I think it’s pretty sweet what you all do every day—putting your lives on the line to put out fires, helping the injured at crash scenes, giving aid in medical emergencies—all for low pay and little thanks. You deserve better. And I’m sorry I got your name wrong. 

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What does it really mean to be patriotic?

Lee Hamilton

By Lee H. Hamilton, Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government

Patriotism has been on a lot of people’s minds lately. Just ahead of the midterm elections, The New York Times noted that two clashing visions of patriotism were heading to the polls. President Trump and Republicans saw patriotism as “conspicuous displays of respect for the traditional expressions of America—the flag, the military, the Pledge of Allegiance.” Democrats, by contrast, saw it as protecting the norms and institutions of our democracy.

I don’t entirely buy this distinction, at least when it comes to partisan labels. I’ve known plenty of Democrats who consider it patriotic to honor the flag, the military, and the Pledge. And I’ve known a lot of Republicans who value our democratic traditions.

But the two broad strands outlined by The Times inarguably exist. For myself, I believe that patriotism means getting on with the serious business of improving our country. It means that we strive to ensure that we live up to our pledge of liberty and justice for all. In this formulation, patriotism is best expressed not in parades or speeches or exhortations or conspicuous displays, but in what we do.

So much of our national discussion of patriotism is about military heroes. This is important, but it’s an incomplete view of love of country. We encounter patriotism at all levels of American life. The teacher in the classroom, the parents who raise their children to be good citizens, the clerk who keeps town records and helps people vote, the ordinary working person who goes about her tasks with dedication and proficiency — patriotism can be found everywhere in our communities, among people who pursue their lives with the good of the country at heart.

We have inherited a magnificent political legacy, a set of customs and traditions that give ordinary people the tools and power to improve life for themselves and succeeding generations. Patriotism lies in our efforts to enlarge that legacy so that it applies to all citizens.

It means we defend civil liberties, the right to dissent, and the equality before the law of all Americans. And it means that upholding our core values — tolerance, mutual respect, the right of everyone to be heard, the belief that in pursuing our own lives and interests we all are capable of contributing to the vibrancy of our democracy — is every bit as patriotic as placing our hand over our heart while reciting the Pledge.

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar of the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

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Vet appreciates anonymous note

This note was given to my husband, a 91-year-old WWII veteran, at the Burger King in Cedar Springs by a young lady who recently graduated from Cedar Springs High School last year. I thought it might be appropriate to post the letter to all local vets. My husband was deeply touched by her verbal “thank-you” as she pushed this note toward him as she left the restaurant.

Here is the text: 

Dear World War Two Vet,

Hi! I am a stranger, but I am indebted to you. It is because of people like you that I can do the things I do. I do not know or understand what you’ve been through, but I appreciate your commitment to keeping the country safe. You have my utmost respect and gratitude. Thank you for your sacrifice and service. Thank you for being willing to put your life on the line to keep total strangers away from harm. America is founded on men with hearts like yours. You are a true hero.

A thankful stranger.

A few people suggested that I submit the letter to the Post to not only recognize local vets but also to recognize the thoughtful young lady, who like many others these days show their gratitude long over due to vets still living, who deserve to be thanked.

Margaret Bieszka, Plainfield Township

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The Coin of the realm

By Lee H. Hamilton

Debate in Congress has always been contentious. The levels of vitriol may seem especially acute these days, but confrontation is not new. I can remember times on Capitol Hill when “debate” was actually more of a screaming match than a civil discussion.

Back then, we had a colleague who invariably stepped forward at these times to remind each side that if we wanted to get anything done—rather than just shout at each other for the cameras—we had to have a measure of trust in one another. We used to call this his “Trust is the coin of the realm speech.” And though we joked about it, we appreciated it—because he was right.

Representative government depends on trust. It depends on trust among policy-makers in Congress, even when they don’t agree with one another. It depends on popular trust in the people who make decisions on Capitol Hill and in the White House. It depends on trust in those who are charged with implementing those laws. And it requires trust in the institutions in which those decisions are produced and implemented.

We might have joked about my long-ago colleague’s speech, but trust really is the coin of the realm. It is a bedrock requirement of democratic governance. If there’s nothing but cynicism, deep suspicion, and lack of confidence in the system, it cannot work.

To understand how interwoven trust must be within the system, think about it from the point of view of ordinary citizens. We have to believe that our voices will be heard, listened to, and taken into consideration in the halls of power.

This means that those in power must be accountable, and that the institutions they serve in will function in predictable, rule-based ways. Which is why it is so damaging when government acts in ways that diminish trust.

If you feel that government is just helping corporations and rich people, you lose confidence in the system. If people see a government that tolerates a high degree of economic inequality in the country, and great disparities in opportunities between rich people and middle-class people, they no longer trust that system.

Yet for representative democracy to work, public officials, politicians and policy makers have to have a sufficient level of support from ordinary people. You and I have to believe that our representatives will in fact level with us rather than present half-truths and distortions, and will act in our interests. Similarly, for government to have any standing in our lives, we have to have confidence in the experts, technocrats, and frontline staff who make the system work.

This means, in turn, that government has to be able to deliver the goods, the services, the protections that people expect. So the performance of the government—its efficiency and effectiveness—is fundamental to the success of representative democracy.

It’s the same with our elected representatives. If they can’t show they’re able to function according to the rules, traditions and norms that we expect, if they are unable to demonstrate durability in the face of adversity, if they are unable to acknowledge the facts, if they cannot rise above division and gridlock and negotiate to get things done, then we lose faith. This may explain why so many have become suspicious not just of our government, but of one another.


Ironically, one cure for this lack of trust is more exposure to the system, through engagement and participation in politics or in civic life. If people are regular participants in political parties, clubs, organizations, or associations of all kinds in their communities, they are much more likely to carry some level of trust in government. And to the extent they don’t do these things, public life seems more distant and less trustworthy.

There is no doubt that my colleague was right. If the various levels of government don’t enjoy the trust of the people, if within each level the participants don’t trust one another, then representative democracy doesn’t work.

This is why the low levels of trust we see in the United States today are so worrisome. How far down this road can we go before we lose the ability to function effectively as a democracy?


Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar of the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

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Post Scripts NOTICE

The Cedar Springs Post welcomes letters of up to 350 words. The subject should be relevant to local readers, and the editor reserves the right to reject letters or edit for clarity, length, good taste, accuracy, and liability concerns. All submissions MUST be accompanied by full name, mailing address and daytime phone number. We use this information to verify the letter’s authenticity. We do not print anonymous letters, or acknowledge letters we do not use. Writers are limited to one letter per month. Email to news@cedarspringspost.com, or send to Post Scripts, Cedar Springs Post, PO Box 370, Cedar Springs, MI 49319.

* We only print positive letters about candidates one week prior to the election. 

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Info on fire station bond proposal


Fellow Cedar Springs residents, 

I want to provide some information about the upcoming bond proposal to build a new fire station in Cedar Springs.  The current building is 40 years old. During the 40 years the CSFD has needed to grow its capacity to protect 5,600 people. Our 17 volunteer firefighters work selflessly to ensure our safety getting a per call payment that barely covers the price of lunch. A recent fire study done in conjunction with Solon Twp revealed that we have exceptionally short response times and we compensate our fire fighters well below what is standard practice for volunteer fire fighters. When it was suggested at a council meeting that we raise their pay, the fire fighters said what they really needed was an adequate facility for our growing community. Building a new fire station is necessary to meet that need by allowing for more and larger trucks while following updated federal requirements since 9/11. If you have further questions please reach out to me. I am happy to answer questions.  

Pam Conley

Mayor Protem City of Cedar Springs


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Taking fire truck put people at risk


I am not a resident of the Village of Sand Lake, but I am in the area serviced by the Sand Lake Fire and Rescue. I was appalled when I read the recent article about one of the units being taken to a parade in an area not even served by Sand Lake when back-up is needed. Just thinking about the risk this created for those of us who often work in fields and woods not accessible to the big, heavy, awkward vehicles gave me a horrible sense of abandonment. Is there no common sense in politicians?

The Unit Being taken: probably Wrong

The Unit Being taken without the knowledge and consent of the Fire Chief, Ed Holtzlander; definitely WRONG.

The Unit Being taken and used to support a politician; NO BRAINER. Again I ask, Is there NO common sense in politicians?


Karen Hayden, Ensley Township

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Vote for Trent Gilmore


To the residents of the Cedar Springs School District,

As a long time teacher at Cedar, and a former graduate I would like to take this opportunity to strongly urge you to vote for Trent Gilmore for our school board in the upcoming election. It has been my pleasure to have known Trent for the last 25-plus years.  I know him to be one of the most honest and competent individuals I have ever met.

Trent has served in the FFA in Clare, Michigan as a local and regional officer, and has been a responsible, upcoming manager at Consumer’s Energy. He has worked for Consumers as a laborer, and worked his way up in management. He therefore has experience on both sides of the union issue. Having observed Trent as he has grown from a young man to a father of three of my grandchildren, I can say that he is an excellent decision maker.

I think the community could do no better than to choose Trent to remain on the school board.

Larry Reyburn, teacher Cedar Springs High School

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New Village of Sand Lake Main Street project


The paving of Sand Lake’s Main Street is done and looks beautiful. We appreciate all the leg work and research done by former Village of Sand Lake President Roger Towsley to get this project going. Everyone please come and visit The Village of Sand Lake and check out the awesome job well done.

Marcia and Marty Helton

Village residents of Sand Lake

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