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Governments are Institutions, Not Family or Friends

Last column I made the misplaced metaphor of comparing local government to a father. Though I admitted that the comparison wasn’t great, the last column was written on my father’s birthday and today we do celebrate Father’s Day so it was relevant.

Many writers have compared governments to family members. The most popular example is the menacing Big Brother from George Orwell’s classic novel 1984.

Our relationship with government is rarely one of kinship, good or bad, but the relationship does vary depending on the level of government. We typically have animosity toward our federal government, even when our preferred party holds the White House, because many public faces emerge in other branches of government.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is why many Republicans still had contempt for the federal government under former President Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stokes the ire of many Democrats under President Joe Biden.

There are fewer public faces outside of the Governor’s Mansion at our state level. Not many Democrats focus their anger at House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Republicans are only now being introduced to Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried as she begins her campaign against Gov. Ron DeSantis.


Local governments are treated more favorably though this doesn’t make them immune to an outpouring of negative Facebook comments. Several studies conducted throughout the years though demonstrate that the U.S. Congressional retention rate is so high because most voters like their local representative but feel it’s the other ones causing the nation’s ills.

Local officials have the potential of becoming friends more so than their state and federal counterparts. Your mayor could be your neighbor, not a nameless bureaucrat to the north.

This can have its drawbacks, particularly in the media that covers local politics. The Chronicle knows the influence it has locally. In the Concurrent podcast this week, I pointed out that in a 10-day stretch over the last two weeks, the Chronicle’s editorial page advocated for five spending projects. That’s an average of one new spending project every other day.

This is unsustainable, but it does give commissioners cover to continue pursuing these projects. My own media outlet is not above criticism.

Last column I wrote the county should be stern with road resurfacing company D.A.B. but grant the company a deadline extension without anything more than a warning, even with the looming potential of impropriety since D.A.B. or company owners have filled each of the five commissioners’ campaign accounts with several thousands of dollars.

This leads to the potential of moral hazard. If a company thinks it can skirt penalty then it will have little incentive to ever adhere to contract terms. There must be a compromise between finding the company in default and fully letting them off the hook which will be discussed this Tuesday.

That brings us to the biggest story of the week. A lawsuit filed against the county claims Commissioner Scott Carnahan sexually harassed an employee. It’s important to note two things: that Carnahan is not a defendant in the case, and that no wrongdoing has been proven beyond reasonable doubt.

Carnahan was a defendant in a case over his residency during a campaign on which I worked as his paid consultant and that case was thrown out. We don’t know what the result of this will be so speculation isn’t helpful.

But even me, as someone who considers our county chairman a friend, can admit that legal trouble is now a pattern and that’s unsettling.

The truth is we shouldn’t look at government as a member of the family - certainly not one tasked with taking care of us such as in the case of my initial father metaphor. Nor should we view government as a friend that we can provide cover for such as the Chronicle advocating for spending projects - even if we are friends with the current representatives of that government such as our county commissioners.

My initial unwillingness to harshly criticize D.A.B. and current hesitation to condemn Carnahan until more facts are known may demonstrate that I am as guilty of this as the Chronicle is for removing a Facebook story and restricting comments on a story about the Schlabach family after public reception of it was negative.

This is why it is better to trust institutions and principles rather than people and case-by-case practices. People are fallible and prone to disappoint. Institutions aren’t perfect but tend to withstand.


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