We've lost trust in our government, but the greater loss may be for the next generation, which is now seeing its state government languish for the lack of attention our generation is giving it. So we must ask ourselves, "Is this the government we want to leave for our children and grandchildren?"
Poll after poll shows how Utahns want more openness, ethics reform and clearer campaign-contribution rules in their Legislature. And while we complain about the lack of trust and integrity in our government, we fail to assume the responsibility the Founding Fathers never thought would be lacking in its citizens.
Over recent years we have seen how our elected lawmakers have become more distant and less responsive to the needs of their constituents and instead, listen to and do the bidding of lobbyists and special-interest groups that keep their campaign coffers full; so much so, that some fail to do any campaigning of any significance. While they make cosmetic rule changes concerning gifts and contributions from lobbyists, legislators are unwilling to make any changes that affect their being re-elected.
More and more we see the dominant party in power becoming less responsive to the voices of the public as well as some of those within the Legislature. Those in office seem more concerned about keeping their seat than risk offending those in control. Most disturbing is that some in the minority party, once known as the "friendly opposition," have now become the "silent minority" and just get along so they can keep their seats.
We have seen blatant disregard for campaign-finance reform, including reporting gifts and campaign contributions; and for those promoting openness and integrity in government, we have seen name-calling and attempts at intimidation. We have seen the Legislature punt when it comes to assuring the public's trust, by showing no interest in following up on ethics complaints. It is discouraging to watch it unfold and see the lack of public outcry over how legislative leaders handle these concerns. It makes one wonder if Thomas Jefferson would have survived in today's Utah Legislature. What we tend to forget is our form of government was forged out of strong argument and dissent by those who had the courage and perseverance to speak out. It is what has made freedom and justice precious values in our society.
While past generations fought for those values, they assumed that they could be passed on to the next generation. Unfortunately, in today's fast-moving society it doesn't work that way. Or as John W. Gardner said, "Each generation is presented with victories it did not win for itself. A generation that has fought for freedom may pass that freedom on to the next generation. ... But it cannot pass on the intense personal knowledge of what it takes in courage and endurance to win freedom." We like to think the values we cling to from our own experiences and talk about to our children are being passed along, but our behavior often contradicts our words. And that may be the greatest harm we do to them and their posterity when we fail to speak up to maintain honesty and integrity in our government.
A Utah native, John Florez has founded several Hispanic civil rights organizations; been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served on more than 45 state, local and volunteer boards; and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and as a member of the commission on Hispanic education. E-mail: [email protected]