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Archive | Voices and Views

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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Post Script 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.

 

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Disturbing facebook post

 

Dear Editor,

I have been watching the developments concerning the CSPS superintendent with interest as I have a young child in the school system. I have been waiting for facts to come out on either side. I look forward to the meeting that will be on the same day that the Post will be distributed to have some questions answered. I hope that many from the community will be able to attend what I hope will be a very informative meeting.  It will be held March 15 at 7pm, Solon Township hall.

I came across a disturbing Face Book post from one of the trustees that was recently appointed to the school board which I believe may call their judgement into question. Tim Bauer wrote on his page 

“Yesterday, in the afternoon, I heard from God regarding the turmoil that has filled our town. He will now bring to an end the rebellion that is fighting against His will. To the degree that you have led this fight will be the degree that God’s judgment will fall on you and your households. To the Christians that have joined themselves to this unholy alliance, may you repent quickly and separate yourselves from that which the Lord will expose as lies, deceit, and treachery against Him. His impartial justice has been declared. Woe to those who have called good evil and evil good, declaring their cause to be righteous. A strong east wind will now blow away the dark clouds of confusion, giving way to the light of God’s glory in Cedar Springs, Michigan. Amen.”

I am not sure what I find most disturbing. It could be that this man feels that God speaks directly to him, and potentially him alone, or that anyone who disagrees with his position will receive the wrath of God. What is more disturbing is that our school board thought that this gentleman was a good choice. It makes me much more open to the idea that perhaps they misjudged the character of our current superintendent as well.

When teachers feel so trapped that they feel the need to appeal directly to the public, it is time to take notice. 

Molly Nixon, 

Cedar Springs

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Thanks for presenting both sides

 

Dear Post,

Thanks for the way you presented two different views of the Cedar Springs school system. 

It’s good to hear about all of the security work going on, especially that there is a full time sheriff deputy.

Sally Thompson, 

Cedar Springs

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Your opinion of CSPS superintendent 

 

To current and previous employees at Cedar Springs Public Schools:

It has been said of Cedar Springs Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Laura VanDuyn that “District employees have expressed their reluctance to continue working with you as you undermine, disparage, and bully them.” Do you find that to be true? Are you fearful to speak out? Or is she being targeted unfairly? Perhaps things are better than ever at CSPS. I want to know! 

I am going to collect anonymous first hand accounts of how the Superintendent leads and the atmosphere in the school. Also how it’s affecting the kids.

Please mail them without a return address to 13840 Sunset Shores, Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or email austingirls123@gmail.com (You can use a new generic email—see below).

Send them whether good or bad! I mean it. I want all sides. As soon as possible. I’d like all answers by 3/11.

Everyone  please share this so it reaches all staff regardless of what your opinion is.

Just a suggestion for anyone who would like to email their comments: 10minutemail.com (you will be given a temporary e-mail address).

Thank you,

Katy Austin, Nelson Township 

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Just say no to conservation and environmental program cuts

 

To the editor:

President Trump’s latest proposed cuts to conservation and environmental programs are even more severe than they were last year. 

Let your representative know your thoughts regarding slashing the funding for environmental protections. I hope you oppose the funding cuts.
The President’s proposal includes a dramatic 92 percent reduction to the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Such an extreme cut would limit opportunities for all communities to access public lands. His proposal would also cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 34 percent and would shrink the National Science Foundation’s budget by 30 percent.
These are the biggest cuts proposed among all federal agencies—despite the fact that Congress has already approved an overall higher level of spending.

Steve Mueller, Courtland Twp. 

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Shipping to PO boxes

 


Many residents having post office box numbers have received notices that letters flats and parcels will need to have the PO Box number provided or items addressed to only the street address will be returned. Since some orders placed online will not ship to a post office box and won’t accept both the street address and the PO Box I placed a call to the Rockford Carrier Annex. Thankfully I learned there is a way around this problem. Simply offer the street address followed with box # ____.
DO NOT USE PO in front of the word box or it will still be kicked out of the system. The post office will recognize the box to route an item to if this suggestion is followed. 

Kathy Bremmer
City of Cedar Springs

 


Post Script 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 PostScripts, Cedar Springs Post, PO Box 370, Cedar Springs, MI 49319.

 

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