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The Rev. Diane Ford Jones
Published: 22 November 2005

Employees of public institutions readily recognize that things change at work every time someone new gets elected to a governing body — be it the school board, city or county council, state Legislature or the federal government.

As a former public employee and elected official with 35 years' experience in public schools, county and state government, I can attest to the ever-nebulous reality that runs through the halls of government.

A former colleague, who was an assistant to a county commissioner, told me something several years ago that continues to strike a chord every time I look at public governance. She said that because the elected official only has an assurance of a four-year (or two-year) window to influence change, change has to happen fast and the new official must make things radically different to ensure that she or he gets credit for it. Elected officials espouse intentions for the long-term improvement of the community but truly realize that the direction will likely change in the short term — following the next election.

The purpose of an election varies from region to region or state to state, but in all of them there is someone trying to change or challenge what's going on at the time. Regardless of who it is, candidates are intent on improving the function of government and the betterment of society in one way or another. One of the famous lines often used by candidates is: Are you better off than you were four years ago?

Every year, no matter what year it is, as we approach November, we are reminded of election day by a barrage of expensive advertisements promoting a cause or a person. In a media-driven society, a candidate's success is usually measured by the amount of money he or she raises for the campaign rather than the number of votes received.

I fully believe in democracy and participation in the process; however, it does not surprise me that more and more people are getting discouraged by our election system. We should all be concerned by the disinterest in voting, because the results of an election have far-reaching implications for our children and their children.

We are faced with long-lasting effects of each newly elected official's urgent need to change something and make it radically different. This is especially true in presidential elections. The tenure of this U.S. president has already had devastating effects on generations to come.

This president's two four-year terms will live on and on and on. The national debt will be so large that the possibility of ever balancing a federal budget again seems unlikely. The millions of children being left behind by this president's educational policies will have serious consequences in the national arena.

The damage to the environment as a result of current policy will require a serious reversal by future generations for the earth to survive the next century. International relationships and trust in the United States across the world will take years to rebuild. The potential appointment of up to four Supreme Court justices by this president could dismantle decades of civil and gender rights assurances fought for by our parents and grandparents.

Last week, our nation honored Rosa Parks and her courageous struggle for racial justice. Why would we now consider a justice — Samuel A. Alito Jr. — whose record on matters that affect women and people of color are dismally contrary to that of Parks?

We claim to have a balance of power in our three houses of government, but our forebears' vision of government is not even close to being realized today. Cronyism in Supreme Court appointments has become an accepted practice in this country — cronyism that only leads to putting in power those with common ideologies rather than competency and commitment to unbiased constitutional interpretation. The court of last resort must be a place of integrity, living up to the ideals of the Constitution — not the ideals of its members.

This president's tenure in office will live on and on and on. Next November, or any other time elections roll around, remember to go to the polls with an eye toward the future — the long-range future.

The Rev. Diane Ford Jones is minister for communication and mission education for the United Church of Christ.

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