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How to get involved

Lee Hamilton

By Lee Hamilton

Back in 1883, Teddy Roosevelt wrote an essay on what it takes to be a true American citizen. He did not mince words. “The people who say that they have not time to attend to politics are simply saying that they are unfit to live in a free community,” he wrote. “Their place is under a despotism.” He went on: “The first duty of an American citizen, then, is that he shall work in politics.”

I hope you’ll forgive his gender-specific language. He wrote at a time when women didn’t even have the vote. But his essay has been on my mind lately, because his sentiment—that living in a representative democracy demands work from all of us—is as timely now as it was then. A lot of people these days intuitively grasp that our system needs our involvement if we’re to safeguard it. So what should we do—especially if politics has to share space in our lives with family and jobs?

The first step is easy: look around your community and ask yourself what needs fixing or what can be done better. I don’t care where you live: ten minutes’ thought and you’ll come up with a healthy list of issues to tackle. This is how a lot of people get started: they see an issue they want to do something about. So they enter the fray, and often come to recognize they have more political power than they thought.

Of course, your chances of effecting change grow as you learn. You have to inform yourself about the issue: listen carefully as you talk to your neighbors and friends, and pay attention to what politicians, commentators, and those involved with the issue say. Participate, if you will, in the dialogue of democracy. It’s perfectly fine to personalize the issue as you seek to persuade others, but to be effective you’ve got to know what others think, too.

The same, really, goes for voting. It should be informed not just by what your gut tells you but also by what you’ve learned. Our system depends on citizens making discriminating choices on politicians and issues. So you want to educate yourself, which includes talking with people whose opinions differ from yours. The world is complex, even at the neighborhood level, and to be effective we need to understand it.

When it comes time to act, you want to join with a like-minded group of believers. That’s how you amplify your strength. Numbers count. And both within that group and among the others you’ll encounter, you try to build consensus. There’s an old saying that if you want to go fast you go alone, if you want to go far you join together. That’s very true in politics.

Next, you have to communicate—with each other, with the media, and at the local, state, and national levels. You have to communicate with your representatives. You have to go to public meetings and speak up. Focus your message so it’s clear, concise, and specific. Be polite but persistent.

There’s another way of participating that’s a bit more arms’ length, but also important: contribute money to a party or politician of your choice. Doing it is as important as the amount, because money talks in politics, and it helps you expand your influence. For good or ill, it’s an important part of politics.

Finally, run for office yourself. If you are so inclined, get a circle of friends to support you. Start locally. Develop the issues you’re interested in, pick the office that will help you affect them, organize and build support, focus your message, raise money. If this isn’t to your taste, then support candidates of your choice.

All of these are ways of participating—and if you want more, search out The New York Times’ guide, “How to Participate in Politics.” The key thing is to show up. There are all kinds of ways to have an impact, but they start with one thing: Showing up. It’s the least we should do.

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar, IU 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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Sand Lake council member resigns

 

Dear Council,

My intention was to serve as a trustee until the election in November when my appointed term ends. When I was sworn in, I took my oath to the constitution and the people of the village very seriously and was prepared to face the typical civil discourse that occurs during the work of such an organization. I was excited about serving in the community and immediately began the work of community engagement, hopeful that working together would bring growth, progress and prosperity to our village.

Since then, however, the typical civil discourse has turned toxic and disruptive to the operations of the village and its people. After Monday’s village council meeting, it was very clear to me that most of the village council members do not share the same sense of integrity and values that I do. I am no longer willing to serve next to people who engage in unprofessional, unethical, immoral, and even potentially criminal behaviors.

I am no longer confident that the majority of the council is committed to good governance. The severe breakdown in trust between council members along with the outrageous conduct of some members at meetings has prompted my resignation. Consider this email notification of my resignation from the Sand Lake Village Council.

Janice L. Dewey, Village of Sand Lake 

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What the pledge means

 

By Lee Hamilton

You know the Pledge of Allegiance, probably by heart. You may recite it only occasionally, or get the chance several times a week. Sometimes, I’m guessing, you say it mechanically, and other times filled with deep meaning.

I hope it’s more often the latter, because here’s what’s remarkable about the Pledge: in a few short phrases, it lays out the fundamentals of what our country represents and strives to achieve.

Let’s start with these words: “and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible.” It’s not just talking about any nation or form of government; it’s talking about a republic — a unified nation, under divine Providence, with three fully equal branches that are strong, independent, and each entrusted with limited and defined powers within their constitutional boundaries.

The meaning goes even deeper than that. Really, we’re talking about power being dispersed across a large number of people and institutions. We’re talking about a system that was designed by people who were so wary of concentrated power that they made it difficult for any one person or institution to wield it.

They created a republic that to its core rejects autocratic political leadership and authoritarianism. It sees them as a threat to our democracy, and depends upon a system of elections in which ballots are counted fairly and citizens have equal voting rights.

This, in turn, provides a system that has the capacity to reform and renew itself, because its institutions rest on the political involvement of our citizens. Elected representatives make the laws, but government is bound by the electoral process, an independent judiciary, and constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech, assembly, religion and the press.

This brings us to the final words: “with liberty and justice for all.” These are crucial to understand. They represent what some pundits have called a framework of decency: a system built on individual dignity and respect for each person. This is a monumental achievement — a country that seeks liberty and justice for all within its borders, and often beyond them, with no limitations or caveats. Liberty and justice are not reserved for white males, or even for citizens only.

In all this, we recognize and tolerate our differences. We may not always measure up to our ideals, but we certainly know what they are. We expect differences in race, religion, and political beliefs. We don’t try to demonize those who are different.

At heart, then, this is a system based on a core belief that we’re all in this enterprise together, and all connected to one another. Everyone has the right to enjoy the promise of America.

Put these two parts of the Pledge together, and what it’s telling us is that we live in a system that binds us together by adherence to rules of political engagement, respect for the rule of law, and belief in our democratic institutions.

We may disagree about all kinds of issues, but we firmly believe in equal political rights and equal opportunity. “Liberty and justice for all” means giving individuals the space to make choices in their own lives that will enable them to flourish. What the country expects in return is that most individuals will live a life of honor, excellence and responsibility. The system demands hard work on the part of its citizens if it is to succeed.
So the next time you stand as the Pledge is recited, think about what you’re saying. It’s deceptively simple. But it packs a powerful message.

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar, IU 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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Keeping History of and in Cedar Springs

By Lois Allen, Publisher

We are currently celebrating 30 years of local coverage. It’s a celebration because when I took over operations in 1988, I didn’t think we could make it a whole year! We are still here because of the local businesses that support us with their advertising. We thank them.

The local paper is an insight into the people and the place we call Cedar Springs. Not only that, it is an ongoing historical documentary printed weekly.

You grab a Post on your way into Meijers, or maybe at one of our 80 plus newsstands from here to Greenville and up into Howard City. Sometimes you might save a copy when you see your child’s name or picture, or maybe you have a Hometown Hero that you are proud of and so you cut out the feature and place them in your family scrapbook. 

In the business of newspapering we like to call that the “refrigerator effect” meaning people will cut out portions of the newspaper and put it on their fridge. The highest compliment we can get.

We don’t have The Post in the “cloud.” The cloud costs money and you must pay to access it. With newspapers (including ours) struggling to stay solvent and pay the bills in this age when advertisers flock to the internet, Facebook and direct mail, among about a thousand other adverting venues, we are lucky to still be here!

But when we are gone, we want to ensure the history we’ve documented will not be lost. So, each year we send the printed pages for each issue to a bookbindery where they compile them into a hard cover book. We have two books for each year. One for our office to use as a reference and the other is donated to the Cedar Springs Historical Society. This way, if one of these buildings burns down, (Lord forbid!) there will still be a historical record of our people here.

However, The Post, in its effort to stay afloat, has not had the additional funds to pay the cost for this. We currently have two years of unbound newspapers. In 2015, the Gunnells of Cedar Springs generously donated the funds to pay the cost for those books. 

The Post is currently hoping that we can find a community member, or members willing to help us out so we can bind the past two years (2016 & 2017).

The cost for the “publishing” or binding of these two years, which is four books, is approximately $500.

You may contact us Monday through Thursdays between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. and on Friday 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. or email us at classifieds@cedarspringspost.com or at sales@cedarspringspost.com. Our phone number is (616) 696-3655.

Thanks for reading The Cedar Springs Post!

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Politics: We need it

Lee Hamilton

By Lee H. Hamilton

Every so often, I jot down a list of the things that discourage me about our country. There’s the widespread disregard for our core values of tolerance and mutual respect, for instance. Our declining national optimism. Our relaxed attitude toward fixing our election machinery, overseeing financial institutions, and making sure that our key democratic institutions and processes are working effectively. There’s wage stagnation, income inequality, a high poverty rate, failing infrastructure, inadequate health-care coverage, a dysfunctional Congress…You get the idea.

This is not really a list of failings. It’s a to-do list. And it pretty much begs the question, if we’re not to throw up our hands and give in, how do we make progress on it? Well, I’ll tell you: politics.

I suppose most Americans will disagree. How can we depend on people – politicians – whom many hold in utter disregard? And what can we expect from political institutions like legislatures, Congress, the bureaucracy, the political parties, and a rickety electoral system that are widely viewed with suspicion?
The answer, I think, has to be that we should do all we can to encourage and support them to fix these problems, because they’re all we’ve got.

American politics can be an inefficient, noisy, messy ride. But be careful before you condemn it and its practitioners, because alternatives like a chaotic anarchy or the brutal efficiency of a dictatorship are far worse.

In other words, if we’re going to attack the problems that concern us, we need politics: otherwise, our government would grind to a halt. We would be without a means of remedying our collective problems. The institutions of politics – the rule of law, elections, city councils, legislatures, Congress – are the way we make operational a government of, by, and for the people. They are how we work together.

At its heart, politics is about searching for a remedy to a problem, and building support behind that remedy. It’s the way we try to keep citizens satisfied and strive to meet their hopes, demands and dreams. At its best, politics and political involvement are how we give citizens a feeling of community and an understanding that we’re all in this together.

It’s our vehicle for expressing shared values and for reconciling the tensions, diversity and differences among us that are bound to arise as we tackle these enormously difficult challenges.

This is not to say that our system is even close to perfect. The list of things we need to fix – from the influence of money on elections and political decision-making to an elections machinery that is crying out for attention and reform – is long. But we need to strike a balance.

As a citizen you have to be critical of your system and ask yourself how to improve it and support reforms that would make it better. Yet I worry that our disdain for politicians and the howling criticism aimed at our democratic institutions in recent years has so undermined confidence in the system that people have lost their trust in their fellow citizens, their elected representatives, and their institutions – in other words, in the very people, organizations, and core values that can get us out of this mess.
If you ask people what they most cherish about our political system, most will say it’s the idea of opportunity. For all its fits and starts, its horse-trading and negotiating and raw give and take, politics is also how we try to provide equal rights, civil liberties, and a fair shot at opportunity for all. Sure, we fall short of the ideal. But in a representative democracy, it’s the mechanism we possess to try to create a more perfect union.

The plain truth is, it doesn’t do much good just to talk about the ideals or shared values of America. You also have to try to realize them on the ground, to pull them out of the complicated – and often self-contradictory – mass of popular longings and opinions and translate them into policy and law. For better or worse, politics is how we do this.

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar, IU 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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City Hall update

From Pam Conley, Mayor Pro-tem, City of Cedar Springs

I wanted to take an opportunity to check in and let you know about some of the fabulous things that the City, under the direction of the City Council and in coordination with the City Manager, is working on. 

We are beginning a large sidewalk project; the construction of a pocket park near city hall; a landscaping project being implemented by the Garden Club; starting the first phase of building a new fire station; and implementing several water and sewer up grades. Through the generous support of the Community Building Development Team, we have seen the completion of a new library and we are now looking forward to the construction of an amphitheater in the reclaimed green space that is now known as The Heart Of Cedar Springs. 

Since the beginning of my residence in Cedar Springs I have served on a variety of boards, in a variety of positions both elected and appointed, and the current Council is among the most hard working, diligent, and collegial I have had the honor of serving with. 

Rose Powell attends a multitude of meetings every month for various organizations and reports back to the rest of Council. 

Lisa Atchison brings her experience from Planning Commission and her eye for detail to every ordinance and contract that comes across our desks. 

Molly Nixon has followed through with her commitment to transparency by supporting the use of YouTube to publicize meetings and supporting the “Ronny Merlington Policy” of ensuring we hear items twice before voting on them. 

Jerry Gross, as a former Fire Chief, has been instrumental in explaining details of service and explaining needs regarding the fire department and safety of our community. 

Perry Hopkins has been a link to the business community, helping to provide a voice for their issues and concerns. 

Mayor Gerald Hall is very much the straw that stirs the drink. His deep knowledge regarding infrastructure has been invaluable as we manage up grades to our water, sewer, sidewalks, and roads. His long history in the community is priceless in working with existing and new businesses as they look to up grade or move in to our community. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve with him, and the rest of this Council.  

Mike Womack, our new City Manager has been a wonderful addition to our team. His expertise—not only in city government but also as an attorney—has saved the City tens of thousands of dollars. He has provided faster responses to questions that would have previously required a consult with the City Attorney, which not only costs billable hours but also requires wait time for a response.  

I invite you to stop in, hear about the great things we are working on, and take a few minutes during public comment at our monthly meetings to let us know concerns you many have, things happening in the community you are excited about, or to just say hello. I can say this entire Council would love to hear from you. 

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We’re all in this together

 

By Lee H. Hamilton

Our republic is under stress. So much so, in fact, that if you’re not worried about its future, you probably haven’t been paying attention.

What makes me say this? Our public discourse has become uncivil and shrill. Corruption and unethical actions by prominent politicians headline the daily news. Too many politicians make their mark by fueling division, exploiting frustration and casting doubt on our democratic institutions—and too many Americans respond by agreeing with them.

On the whole, Americans’ regard for our political institutions and the people who run them is scraping rock bottom. By two-to-one margins, parents urge their children not to go into politics.

And who can blame them? These days, it’s far easier to enumerate the things that are wrong with our republic than what is right. It’s marked by a proliferation of special interests, an avalanche of money, disregard for facts, gridlock, partisan gerrymandering, excessive partisanship, and indifference to the common good among political leaders.

So it’s not surprising that many Americans have tuned out. They understand our republic only vaguely and participate in it less. Voting rates are depressing, and a disturbing number of young Americans reject politics in all its forms.

While political engagement, as measured by people taking to the streets, may be on the rise, that’s not necessarily a sign of good civic health. In fact, we appear to be caught in a dangerous downward cycle. Government is seen as dysfunctional and corrupt; this causes the ablest people to stay out of government and politics; and this, in turn, hobbles politics and government.

The risk in all this is that as Americans disengage, we place the entire American democratic enterprise in jeopardy. Lincoln’s burning question at Gettysburg, “Whether a nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure,” was apt then; it is disturbingly so today.

So what do we do? There are plenty of steps we could take to strengthen our democratic institutions and make government more efficient, effective, and responsive. But what we need most of all is for our citizens—that’s you and me—to appreciate this democracy we’ve inherited, and to step up to the responsibilities it asks of us.

Our republic, despite its many challenges, is at its core a monumental achievement. It is marked by strong independent branches of government, entrusted to exercise limited and defined powers within the bounds of the Constitution. It enshrines checks and balances, separation of powers, equal individual rights and opportunity, and the rule of law.

It provides fair, free elections—mostly free from fraud and manipulation. Most remarkably of all it is constructed to allow us to seek a more perfect union—to improve it as the nation evolves. This is its great strength.

But we can only take advantage of its strength when we act as though we’re all in this republic together—when we work cooperatively to secure a country where all people have the opportunity to enjoy the promise of America by living a life of honor, excellence, and responsibility.

Because democracy places demanding responsibilities on its citizens—to cast an informed vote, to engage in the dialogue of democracy with civility and a willingness to learn, to make discriminating judgments about politics and politicians, to work with others to strengthen the institutions of democracy and improve our part of the world.

We will disagree with one another about all kinds of issues but also know that we need to accept and tolerate those differences because we are far stronger when we seek to reconcile them rather than ignore or exacerbate them.

Let’s not deny it: the trends these days are worrisome. We face a bewildering array of dangers to our republic. Authoritarian rule and autocratic leadership, once unthinkable, are now true concerns. We are subject to unwanted foreign influence, prey to public and private figures who use government to pursue money and power and manipulate the rules of the game for personal gain, and at the mercy of politicians who believe that whatever it takes to win is just fine.

But if we also lose trust that we, as citizens, can turn the republic around by shouldering our responsibilities to act, that’s when we’re truly sunk.

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar, IU 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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Recall petitions for BOE members available

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.

 


The recall effort for the board of education members Heidi Reed, Matt Shoffner, and Shannon Vanderhyde is officially underway. The specific language refers to what I and other members of the community believe was a violation of the open meetings act, but that is merely a symptom of the larger problem. This board has repeatedly ignored stakeholder voices. They are beginning to rush into selecting a new superintendent when at least 4, if not 7 seats will be up for election in November. I believe this to be a mistake. There are calls to put in place a highly qualified interim superintendent until we have a board that will be seated more than 6 months. The board openly silenced stake holders, can anyone trust that they will listen now? There will be petitions available at the Cedar Springs Burger King community room on Saturday May 5th 1-4 pm, Tuesday May 8th 6-9 pm and Thursday May 17 from 6-9 pm. A board who will not listen to voters cannot be allowed to continue to serve.

Molly Nixon, City of Cedar Springs

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Rude comments and spending money

 

We attended the Cedar Springs School Board Meeting on March 26 and made several observations.

Our first observation came when the school board president Heidi Reed stated that the school board pays an outside consulting firm (from Ohio) for school policies. While it might be common practice to pay a consulting firm for crafting of school policies, is it the best practice? How much of the community’s money was spent on this out-of-state consulting firm? We believe that our local school policies should be determined by those who live here, not in some other state. We have no problems with getting ideas and inspiration from any and all sources, but community members should determine our local policies. How about having a public forum with debate and discussion of what policies we would like to have in our local school district? We can see what other communities are doing, but this is our school district, serving our children, and our community. If our school board members are unwilling or unable to make policies that fit and form our local community, perhaps they should not be serving on the board.

We got the impression that Ms. Reed was attempting to absolve herself and the board from having any personal responsibility for unpopular policies.  

Over the past several years, public comments and statements made by board members and the superintendent seem to reflect a view that spending public money is good. Instead of focusing on results or finding the best value for taxpayer dollars, the board and superintendent appeared to try to solve problems by spending money.

We were also shocked and offended by comments made by board president Reed and board trustee Tim Bauer. Ms. Reed made a comment that seemed to be a personal attack on those members of the community that spent their own money, time and resources on yard signs and t-shirts. She said that she wished that effort had gone to supporting the kids who are going to The Odyssey of the Mind competition. The audience reaction to her statement was shock, immediately followed by comments. At that time, another board member demanded that the audience “respect the board president.” The audience should respect the position of board president, but the board president should respect members of the audience and community as well. While she’s entitled to her own personal opinions, we feel that this comment was inappropriate. 

We had serious concerns regarding Trustee Tim Bauer, but those are now moot since he announced his resignation.

The board approved paying an interim superintendent $600 per day plus mileage. We would like to see how that figure was reached and the rationale behind it. Is this the best value for our tax dollars?

As a final thought, perhaps we should consider adding another board member. This new member would be elected by and from the district’s teachers to provide direct representation of those who teach our children. The new position could either be a full voting member, or an advisory member depending on statutory and regulatory requirements. 

Chris and Emily Scott

Solon Township

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Congress tanks—but does it care?

 

Lee Hamilton

By Lee Hamilton

We’re at a watershed moment in American political history. Our Congress — I’m talking about the people’s body, the institution created by our founders, and not just the men and women who currently inhabit it — is in deep trouble. And no one seems to be offering hope.

Its public standing is abysmal, occasionally dropping into the single digits in polling. Very few people seem to respect it, even on Capitol Hill. Small surprise, as the Pew Research Center reported the other day, that “More members of the U.S. House of Representatives are choosing not to seek re-election to that body than at any time in the past quarter-century.” Since filing deadlines haven’t passed in most states that number is almost certain to grow.

Just as worrisome, power is shifting decisively to the President. The “balance of power” you read about in 7th-grade civics? It’s a myth today. Co-equal branches? Not any more. Members of Congress over the years have delegated much of their power to other branches, especially the executive, so that they can escape accountability for tough choices. It allows them to focus more on getting re-elected, and on the local and constituent interests that are their electoral bread and butter.

Here’s what may be the most discouraging thing of all: there was a time when congressional leaders would forcefully defend the Congress. They don’t even bother to do that any more. In fact, it’s not unusual to find them defending their own leadership but criticizing the institution they lead.

To ponder what we can do about it is to confront a long list of daunting challenges. For starters, congressional leaders have abandoned two centuries of precedent, a traditional set of norms, customs and procedures that allowed a body representing the complexities of the entire country to arrive at policy solutions that by and large spoke to the public good.

Today, bills are often drafted outside the committee system, without careful deliberation, consideration, or even participation by most members. The leadership has accumulated more and more power, leaving ordinary members out of the loop, especially in the all-important budget process.

We’re saddled with a Congress that affords special interest groups far too much power. Their representatives and lobbyists swarm over Capitol Hill to influence and cajole, write speeches, supply talking points, and funnel money and favors of all descriptions to members. And because re-election is so expensive, Congress not only accepts all this, but seeks it out. Ordinary citizens have lost influence in the process.

The body itself has become extremely polarized, which means that the decisions it makes are more extreme. House districts are gerrymandered, which has increased the tendency for them to elect the most extreme candidates in both parties, which only accentuates polarized views when these legislators arrive in Washington.

And Congress has largely rejected its oversight responsibilities, which ought to carry a weight equal to legislating — and which put it on a par with the executive branch. It uses the subpoena power rarely, grills administration and other witnesses only occasionally, and even more rarely holds the executive branch accountable. Want an example? We’ve got half a dozen conflicts going on around the world, armed forces in some 70 countries, we’re incurring casualties and putting our men and women in extreme danger — and Congress holds no hearings of any consequence to ask what’s going on or what we’re gaining from the commitments we’ve made around the world.

You can take the agenda for reform from this depressing litany. Congressional leaders need to stop manipulating the process and let members vote on the tough issues of the day. Finding ways to stem the tidal wave of money and favors is crucial. So are ending gerrymandering and tamping down the politics of polarization. Congress needs to reassert the authority given it by the Constitution to serve as a check on executive overreach and misguided policy-making.

Americans have a right to be disappointed in the performance of the legislative branch. But they also have an obligation to speak up about it and demand action not just on a favored bill, but on improving the effectiveness of the Congress itself.

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar, IU 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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