Elections can be confusing, confounding, and even disheartening for candidates and for citizens alike. On the local level, our elected officials often make important decisions that affect the daily lives of people who live within their districts. If the eligible voters in a certain area are uninformed or disengaged, they may end up being misrepresented or even disregarded by those who take office. In theory, if the people don’t get out and vote, those who do get elected will only serve the wants and needs of the people that do support them.
Many would claim that, “If you don’t vote, you don’t have any right to complain,” but that isn’t exactly true either. The problem is that many voters have become disenchanted with an electoral system that now favors the most well-funded politicians, even when it comes down to local elections. Whether local, state, or national, the chance of an underdog or write-in candidate winning are very slim. So, it always seems to come down to a choice between whatever candidates have been officially endorsed, or for many, a choice between the “lesser of two evils.”
It is also becoming increasingly apparent that our representatives in state and national leadership positions are quite out of touch with the will of the people. Perhaps this is largely due to low voter turnout or a general lack of confidence, but often times it seems that even when the electorate makes a unanimous decision on an issue, the political will of those in charge can overpower the will of the people. And inevitably, when money walks a politician into candidacy and is what wins an election, its the money that talks.
But when its money that the people have to put up to pay for public expenses, the politicians seem to have a real hard time listening and making good decisions. A recent example of such a situation where voters have spoken yet the legislature hasn’t listened is the case of Michigan road repairs. The Michigan legislature has been going back and forth on how to fix the state’s roads for months, even years now, and after an initiative proposed in May of 2015 to raise the state sales tax failed, a deal has finally been made to increase the gasoline tax and vehicle registration fees to help pay for the roads.
On election day, “The Republican plan passed by the narrowest of margins in the Senate and the House after a marathon session that went late into the night. Governor Rick Snyder says he expects to sign the bills quickly. Boosting road funding by more than a billion dollars a year has been one of Snyder’s top policy goals for years. Democrats criticized the plan for not specifying areas in the budget that will lose funding,” according to Jake Neher at Michigan Radio.
So now, even though voters have told the legislature that they don’t want taxes raised, our leaders in Lansing are going to raise taxes anyways. The vehicle registration fee and gasoline tax increases make some sense, since roads need repair due to wear and tear, but licensed Michigan taxpayers aren’t the only ones driving on Michigan roads. Weather conditions and large trucks cause roads to deteriorate as well, so shouldn’t the companies that put those trucks on the road have to share a large portion of the road repair burden?
Another issue with the current roads plan that Governor Snyder will soon likely put his signature on, is the fact that many, if not all, of our current representatives will be out of office by the time it really takes effect. This means that a whole new set of politicians will have to take responsibility for working out the details of this piece of legislation, which may turn out to be very unpopular and ineffective. The inheritance of short-sighted, half thought out solutions is another point of contention in politics on any level. Jack Lessenberry likens the plan that has now been approved by the Senate and the House to a Rube Goldberg machine:
“The dictionary definition of a Rube Goldberg machine is ‘an apparatus deliberately over-engineered to perform a simple task in a complicated fashion.’ The wacky inventor has been dead for 45 years, but he seems to have inspired the Michigan Legislature’s plans to fix our roads…now the crazies have come up with a plan that, a) raises taxes unfairly and in an extremely complex way — b) cuts the general fund by $600 million a year, a move guaranteed to hurt education and essential programs — and c) doesn’t provide enough to fix the roads. You might call it a Rube Goldberg machine that doesn’t work. And our Legislature loves it.”
This is not only a sad state of affairs for all Michigan residents and our governmental leadership, but it also creates a sense of mistrust and a general lack of confidence in those who are eligible to vote. It’s always difficult to get voters out during off season elections, but when our current leaders drag their feet on important issues and then finally implement something as ineffective as this roads plan legislation, it isn’t likely to increase voter confidence.
Fortunately, in 2016, there will most likely be at least one ballot initiative to legalize recreational cannabis, and it will be a Presidential election, so more people are likely to get out and vote. However, it would be nice of more of national, state, and local leaders would start listening to the people rather than trying to play politics and do whatever they feel is necessary to win favor with their supporters. And, if Michigan voters pass the MILegalize initiative, a good chunk of taxes collected from cannabis sales will go to help fixing our roads, so maybe this current road plan debacle can be mitigated then.