The most remarkable series of events occurred on Tuesday. I’ve been watching Citrus County Commission meetings for six years, which isn’t terribly long compared to some, but I’ve never seen anything like it.
Plenty of other publications go into depth about the complexities of the issues that were voted on, but the goal of these columns is to get you to think rather than to just inform. To achieve this, oftentimes a change of perspective is needed.
The first step to this is to recognize what we all watched. Tuesday’s marathon day of commission meetings resulted in two major outcomes: the attempt to ban sexual orientation-related library displays failed again and the commission approved a critical change that allows a developer who intends to build an affordable housing project in Meadowcrest to proceed.
Now let’s shift the perspective to challenge your interpretation of what we saw and understand why I think Tuesday was so remarkable.
On both of these major issues, the majority of the people who spoke during the open to the public portion of the debate were overwhelmingly in favor of the sides that ended up failing once it was called to a vote.
My rough estimates are that about 35 people spoke in favor of the library display ban and as many as 50 spoke against the affordable housing project with fewer than 5 people advocating for the sides that ended up victorious. The Chronicle reported that “many” spoke about the libraries and that Meadowcrest residents “showed up in force” against the project.
The numbers didn’t influence the final outcome though, even in the landslide margins of both cases. That’s the remarkable turn of events. But it raises an obvious question - is this a good thing?
My guess is the majority opinion would be no, it is not a good thing. Let’s rephrase and reframe exactly what we’re talking about not in reference to what happened here specifically but in general terms of governing ideology.
These competing ideologies are if elected officials should reflect the perceived will of those they represent or if they should vote the way they personally feel is best?
The people from the meeting would likely say that our representatives are accountable to the majority regardless of their personal beliefs. Maybe that’s what we should all think.
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin perfectly encapsulated this ideology in a single conversation between two characters. I’ve mentioned in past columns how pretentious quoting the West Wing is in political writing, but in one scene Sorkin has a fictional U.S. Senator refuse to vote during a lame duck session for something he passionately believes in because the issue was a centerpiece of his losing campaign.
The senator feels duty-bound to represent his constituency in his final months even at the expense of seeing the policy he cared about most fail because of his own unwillingness to vote.
The whole conversation is worth watching if you’re reading this digitally but the most critical part for our print readers is when the senator says, “it seems that more and more we’ve come to expect less and less from each other and I think that should change. I’m a senator for another 10 weeks and I’m going to choose to respect these people and what they want.”
To the majority of people who showed up to the meetings, this sounds like the idyllic elected official. Finally someone who gets it!
And yet, if you’ve noticed, I’ve been outlining what this side of the governing philosophy is but I haven’t said that I agree with it. I don’t.
I take the position that governing officials should lead from their own ideologies and principles rather than try to reflect that of their constituents.
This is going to be a tough position to argue. It’s well-intentioned, like the Chronicle quotes from Commissioner Holly Davis at the Meadowcrest meeting who said, “you may not believe me, but I am looking out for you. I really am.”
This got a visceral response from the crowd with a mixture of incredulous laughter and outright anger. I imagine some of you might feel the same intuitive gut punch during the next column when I defend my position.
Remember though, the Concurrent has never sought total agreement or disingenuously framed situations to appeal to confirmation bias in a base audience. It’s solely a publication that challenges you to think. I hope you’re up to the challenge on Sunday.