Smithfield: Opinion

It’s a Republic, if we can keep it

In 1787, as Benjamin Franklin walked out of the Constitutional Convention, an anxious woman asked him what form of government the Founders had constructed. Characteristically, Franklin replied, “...a republic, if you can keep it.”

As a U.S. history teacher, I’ve been explaining to my students for nearly 40 years that American government is the most remarkable experiment in democracy in human history. At its best, it is a system that affords its citizens – regardless of background – the opportunity and freedom to live up to their God-given potential.

And I remind them that Franklin’s nearly 230-year-old challenge is still relevant today.

Throughout our history, we’ve learned that our political system is most successful when we have common-sense leadership that is responsive to the people. Government must be transparent so that citizens know what’s happening with their tax dollars, and we need leaders without regard to party who will stand up for responsible government, especially in challenging economic times.

Here in Johnston County, we’ve seen an unfortunate lapse in leadership, resulting in an ongoing and public quarrel between our school board and our county commissioners, with some arguing that the school board could have allocated funds more wisely and relieved our county’s teachers from having to dig into their own pockets to supply their classrooms – as so many of them do.

Rather than bickering about the mistakes of the past, we should be looking to solutions for the future. This is particularly important on the issue of education – our children’s futures should take priority over petty politics.

With this in mind, we must take steps to make sure we are doing right by our students and Johnston County’s taxpayers.

To do this, we must insure transparency so that Johnston County’s residents have confidence in the way decisions are made and money is spent. We do this by electing leaders who are committed to Abraham Lincoln’s vision of a government that is “of… by… and for the people.” Our public servants must speak up openly and honestly and not duck the public’s questions by stonewalling and buck-passing. They should reflect our priorities and possess a vision for ways we can begin tackling those priorities together – a vision that is shaped by commonsense and not partisan loyalties. Our county is one of the state’s fastest growing areas because of our quality of life and strong communities, but as we grow, we must make sure we’re not leaving our communities behind.

Just as important, though, we must empower our local leaders by taking back the power that has been usurped by Raleigh. No one knows the needs and ambitions of our county more than its residents, and that’s how it has always been. With the General Assembly taking more and more power away from our towns, we’re increasingly being left behind and ignored. Big government can’t meet our county’s challenges. Let’s strengthen local authority and take back our ability to make decisions for ourselves.

As the old saying goes, “All politics is local.” Our challenges are not insurmountable, but we must pull together if we hope to build a better future for our children and grandchildren. We all know it’s time for new leadership, complete accountability and a commitment to putting our communities first, where they belong.

Rich Nixon is the Democratic candidate for the District 26 seat in the N.C. House.