By Ivan Flores
Politics. What other words does this it conjure up? Apathy? Greed? Dishonesty? Dysfunction? Boring? According to the Pew Research center, only 53.6 percent of Americans voted in the 2012 presidential election.
Countries like France, Netherlands, South Korea and even Mexico had better voter turnout rates in national elections that year. It’s no secret that Americans are frustrated with their elected officials.
Congress has an approval rating of 11 percent. So why aren’t people voting? Maybe that word, “politics” just sounds too dirty. Why would anyone want to get involved with it?
Ask Jason Morgan. He quit his job as the director of government relations at Washtenaw Community College last year to run for a spot on the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners.
Morgan said he’s not technically a politician yet, but it felt like a great opportunity to serve the community and make a positive difference. Morgan thinks people lose sight of what it means to hold public office. When Morgan used to work for John Dingell, he would hear “we are here to serve the people.”
If that concept doesn’t seem to match up with the rhetoric of national politics, it’s because it doesn’t.
“The politics I’m seeing on the state and federal level is extremely disheartening,” Morgan said.
Morgan’s name will appear on the November ballot, along with that of two other better known candidates running for a more prestigious office: Donald J. Trump and Hillary R. Clinton.
Trump and Hillary are polarizing figures. Conservative voters see Clinton as a dishonest member of the establishment, even a criminal, while progressives accuse Trump of “being a demagogue, inciting racism and encouraging violence.” The candidates are not the only ones who are loud and angry.
Closer to home, Ann Arbor city council member Sabra Briere has seen the breakdown of respect in civil discourse.
“People are (now) far more convinced that no one will listen, and far less willing to compromise…They’ve lost the perception that working together works,” she said.
According to Briere, the angry people at public meetings are no novelty. But they have become bolder, and they have more sympathy from the public. She recalled meeting on a road project where a handful of people dominated the conversation. Members of the public shouted over the staff member trying to present her information, because they disagreed with it.
“It seems that compromise has become a curse word rather than a virtue,” Briere said.
Enter David Rutledge. He begs to differ. Rutledge has served for three terms in the Michigan House of Representatives. His district covers the Ypsilanti Area, and includes WCC. As a Democrat, he has been in the minority for six years. Despite the challenges of being in the minority, he has been successful in sponsoring and passing many bills with bipartisan support. His success stems from establishing strong relationships built on compromise with his Republican counterparts.
“I separate the idea of politics and public service,” Rutledge said. “Not all people who hold public office approach that office with the perspective of public service. They view it as a means to something else.”
While he admits that there is a lot of cynicism and apathy from the public, Rutledge also believes in the democratic process.
“People who have to view this from the outside looking in may see (politics) as dysfunctional, but I remind you that our system is set up this way. It is a democracy. It is meant to be contentious.”
People have a right to express their opinions, He emphasized. But he also explained that there’s a constructive way to do that. Rutledge encouraged participation in politics, even when the system seems broken. His advice to all of us: vote.