It’s Time for Action – Part 3

This is part 3 of a three part post. Part 1 deals with gun issues, Part 2 deals with SJR127. This section is different. This section is about forcing accountability and ways to do that

Accountability Defeats Barbarism or It’s the Accountability, Stupid

There is no accountability in barbarism, and if some had it their way, there would be little accountability in government. Accountability is where ideology falls apart. Both sides call for more “accountability” so long as it’s politically expedient for them, but neither REALLY deliver. Honestly, it’s the height of stupid how badly both sides sell but fail to deliver accountability. Maybe it’s because elected officials are just not gifted at coming up with ways to police things, or maybe, just maybe they’re relying on sleepy eyed constituents that are only really engaged in the process from the car to the ballot box, and “just can’t quit” their electeds no matter how bad they’re messing it up. I’ll call it Brokeback politickin’.

See, when the Democrats are in control of the legislature, the Republicans want things like Ethics Commissions and fundraising embargoes and accountability and all that because they know that if they can cast doubt, or if there’s something that gains attention (like Tennessee Waltz), their advocacy will score political points. When the tables get turned, they want to dismantle the very same thing they built because it costs too much or it’s too burdensome. Both sides try to avoid stuff like this as a general rule because at some point, fate being what it is, they will be in power and thus subject to the rules as the party in power.

There are, however, people on both sides that always support things like this. I love these people, regardless of party because they possess a dynamic moral compass (one that doesn’t exclusively point at “them” all the damn time). They understand democratic institutions need oversight in order to be effective, but most importantly, that they need that oversight for the people who are paying attention, and even those who aren’t, to have faith in them, which is vital for effective governance.

So when Lt. Gov. Ramsey calls for the end of the fundraising embargo during the legislative session, or some drastic change to the Ethics Commission that he voted for, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand what’s at play in the political calculus. He can’t get elected Governor against a guy with as much money as oil in Saudi Arabia if he can’t raise money 24/7 and causing a dustup in the Ethics Commission or with TREF gives him some cover to do what he’s got to do to get the thing he wants to get. Of course, he could just as easily resign his seat in the Senate and raise all the money he could get his hands on, but then he would lose a powerful platform, and if he doesn’t win, he’s out of the game. It’ll be interesting to see if Democratic state legislators who are also running or considering a run for Governor get behind his effort. I love you guys, but don’t think I won’t call you out the same way.

Now, I personally don’t see any real problem with legislators raising money when they’re in session, so long as there are strict guidelines and a well-funded agency with teeth that can enforce the guidelines. That’s not the issue. It becomes an issue when the self-interest is so BLATANT that it stinks to high heaven like a fish market on a hot summer afternoon. This is something you do RIGHT AFTER a campaign, not in the run up.

But poor accountability doesn’t just happen when pols are policing themselves. Does anyone believe that the mess we’re experiencing economically could have been averted had; 1. Rules not been taken out of play for regulators, & 2. Our former administration not yanked the teeth out of regulatory agencies praying that the tooth fairy (unregulated markets) would pay off?

This is why legislators and Congress in general have low approval ratings, they just don’t get accountability. This is why people feel government is broken. In Monteagle, TN House caucus chair Mike Turner said , “Republicans get elected by claiming that government is broken then get elected and prove it!”. Now that’s a funny line, and was delivered with all the bravado that we’ve come to expect from Rep. Turner, but the truth is, Democrats break government too…like when they surrender their ideals to Republican ploys.

But that’s just government accountability, not REAL accountability. After that stupid “Guns in Bars” bill passed, there was a lot of racket from restaurant owners who were ANGRY that their elected officials had not even bothered to consult them before voting (Newscoma touched on this last week). Now sure, you can’t get to every constituent, but word gets around, particularly in the restaurant industry (I mean, town crier anyone? sheesh), and had one of these fine fellows or fellettes (I think that means something else,) bothered to talk to a couple of people, word would have spread and letters and phone calls would have been made.

Here’s a tip, if you’re waiting for your legislators to magically not be a jerk, you’re going to be disappointed. I’m NOT SAYING THAT ALL LEGISLATORS ARE JERKS, many, even the ones that do stupid things from time to time aren’t. I’m saying that if you want to ensure that they don’t go down that dark path, you have to initiate contact. But one letter only goes so far. Truth is you’ll need to get a bunch of friends and colleagues to write also to make an impact. Once you’ve made that contact, expressed your opinion, if they still consistently do the wrong thing, vote them out of office, because the flaming poop bag on the front stoop is unseemly.

But people, more often than not, are interested in playing the victim and not taking the bull by the horns, and politicians count on that which is why incumbents win like 95% of the time.

Truth is, if you don’t think you can do anything then chances are you won’t. Politicians vote against their ideals from time to time because they aren’t provided the political cover, the vocal support they need to feel confident in their actions. Progressives, on a local and statewide level, consistently fail to gain the kind of change they want not necessarily because they elected the wrong person, but because they assumed that person would remember their agenda and failed to make that person do it after the election. Further, using our logic, “it’s the right thing to do, so why should there be any question?” we find ourselves mystified when our people vote in ways inconsistent with the values they espouse. Conservatives get this. They bang the hell out of their ideas EVERYWHERE, which partially explains all the whack job letters to the editor in the paper. Is it that they have too much time on their hands, or that they’re organized in a way that allows them to have more influence even though they might be fewer in number. (ie. more vocal).

Elections aren’t the end of the process, they’re the beginning. In order to make the stuff happen that we want to happen we have to build and maintain an organization. We need to run a lobbying effort.

I know that lobbyist is a dirty word and all, but not all lobbyists are fat cats making 7 figures, drinking brandy out of fancy glasses and chomping cigars. Some are workaday Joes that make money in politics advocating for one issue or another, and others are people like you and me. See, as constituents we have the right to “lobby” our elected officials for things, and we can do this in a variety of ways that don’t necessarily include hiring a former member of congress to go up to the hill and trade a vote based on the outcome of a game of racquetball. Unfortunately, you and I don’t have as much money as large corporations, so they get more expensive lobbyists. This just means we have to invest more sweat equity in our lobbying efforts or join organizations to pool our efforts.

There are lots of organizations you can join that lobby on behalf of policy ideals, from more narrow issue groups (like ACLU and NOW) to broader ideological groups (like DFA or MoveOn), to even larger member organizations like unions or the Chamber of Commerce. This gets dicey though, because any jackass with $100 can sign up and join the US Chamber of Commerce, but if you want to join a union, one either has to exist, you have to start one, or you have to find a job at one that has one. This is why passing EFCA is so important, not only for the work benefits of joining a union (though those are important), but for the leveling of the playing field in the lobbying arena that comes with it (IMHO).

Groups like the Chamber don’t want this to happen because it’s a threat to the entitlement system that they’ve created over the past 30 years. If anyone can join a union then anyone can get involved in the lobbying process working against their interests, and thus threaten their power.

Lobbies like the US Chamber, who is singularly more responsible for the destruction of mom and pop businesses like mine, is for companies like Wal-Mart and have used their lobbying power to ensure everything from offshore loopholes for big business to anti-labor legislation that hinders the organizing process. If you ain’t a billion dollar company spread out all over the world, they ain’t your friends. But for $100 bucks you can join the USCOC if you like, and for a donation you can join DFA or MoveOn, but unless you work somewhere that has one, you can’t join a union.

So why not just join MoveOn or DFA? You can, but understand that they are not focused on issues in the same way that the ACLU, NOW, USCOC and Labor are, and they’re practically nonexistent here in Tennessee. MoveOn and DFA are broadly ideologically based, ACLU and NOW are more ideologically focused on specific topics and have a greater presence and Labor is looking out for the interests of their members, even when it runs contrary to traditional ideological allies (think Labor v. Clinton on NAFTA).

Let’s think about this locally and use SJR127 as an example. Did any group in the state start a statewide petition drive or a letter writing campaign around SJR127? Did they focus their efforts on contacting people in swing districts to write their legislators advocating a position (pro or con)? I can’t say for sure, but I’ll bet money that conservatives did, because they are passionate, focused and organized to do these things. Progressives here in Tennessee right now are just passionate.

I saw NOTHING other than blog posts from the left that showed any focused or organized effort. If there was, I must have missed it. If we want to have an effect on the passage of legislation like SJR127, we have to be able to plop a sack of letters on Mike Turner’s (or any other legislator’s) desk from HIS constituents and say, “your voters want you to vote against this”. We have to have proof, and blog posts ain’t gonna cut it. In order to “Make them do it” have to focus and organize our passion.

So, how do we do this? First, we identify allies. For the purposes of SJR127 that would be groups like NOW, Planned Parenthood, and probably several others. They have lists of supporters and donors, we have to help contact these groups to find out what actions (if any) they are engaged in to fight the legislation. From there, we as bloggers use our readership to promote the effort, and if we can clean the Cheetos off our shirts, get out there and do some boots on the ground work. Depending on the success of the effort, perhaps we can swing some votes our way.

I don’t know what, if anything NOW in TN did in opposition to SJR127, but I DO KNOW that if we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’ll keep getting what we’ve always got. Writing blogs is cool, and definitely helps, but like the election, it’s the beginning of the process, not the end. The end is when we get what we want, and unless we start doing something different, it ain’t ever gonna happen.

Several months ago someone told me to leave the politickin to the politicians and just write your blog and to donate money when you can. Well, maybe I haven’t written enough, donated enough or wished upon a star enough, but being on the sidelines and just giving money to places ain’t working for me. I’m ready for the next step.

I’ve never been much of a volunteer, but now I think it’s high time I started. I want to do all the stuff that I’m scared of, phone banking, canvassing, you name it, I’m in. I want to see how this is done, and learn from the experience, and find ways to apply it on a broader scale. Most importantly, I want to have something to show for at the end of the day other than a bunch of words and angst.

So that’s where I’m at. I know where I’m volunteering, and in the next few days I’ll write something about that effort once I become more familiar with the campaign, the strategy, and the tactics employed.

In the end, if we want our elected officials to be accountable we have to make them BE accountable beyond the ballot box. Accountability is a full time job, but it’s a job that voters have to take on. As we’ve seen over the course of this session, we can’t sit on the sidelines and hope they’ll do the right thing, we have to make it politically toxic for them to NOT do the right thing. Until that happens, nothing will change. Until that happens, all the emotion, words, and frustration we’ve seen is just wasted energy. If we want change we have to make it happen, and we have to start now.

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