The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Editorials

September 4, 2013

People lose link to democracy

Why It Matters: Representative democracy suffers when voters have little access to their elected leaders.

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Critics of opposing parties dismiss these alternatives and say elected representatives should attend meetings where they can hear from people who don’t agree with them. Some have resorted to putting cardboard cutouts and pictures of the representatives in empty chairs at meetings where they don’t show.

At some point, elected leaders have to be willing to face “real” constituents no matter what their political views. And at some point, these interest groups that would hijack a normally civil meeting to score some Internet viral videos of representatives need to be shown the door.

When real people can have reasonable and regular access to their elected leaders, better policy comes forth, and there won’t be as much of a need for defensive tactics. But that also might help solve the other problem: special interest money pouring in to influence elections and, in some cases, flipping the entire state government from one party to the other.

Legislative races in Minnesota used to be relatively quiet affairs. Campaign spending by each side remained in five figures. Now the spending is six figures and beyond. Outside interests can take out attack ads at will. Candidates are hit by surprise. It’s the new political reality in light of the recent Citizens United Supreme Court case that opened the floodgates on political spending.

But when elected leaders represent the real people of their district, there won’t be as much incentive for special interests to turn on the money spigot to garner outcomes that are often not what the people ordered.

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