“I need money
I need love
I need a Cadillac
To give me a shove
And get me out of this up-tight
Into some limelight… Again
Yeah ’cause I know
Ain’t my amigo
–Terry Allen, My Amigo, from the album Lubbock (on everything), 1979
Since retiring from municipal service, I have staggered through life like a demented Diogenes, my dim lamp in hand, always searching for an open and honest politician who puts their long-suffering constituents before their craven self-interests and those of the powerful forces who control them.
Good luck with that, Barker. . .
I have learned a few things along the way. Such as the fact politicians seek high office for myriad reasons.
But the truth is, no one of sound mind enters that dark and bloody arena without a hunger for power and influence.
Some find themselves drawn to elective service for purely altruistic reasons – a burning desire to effect positive change in their community, state, or nation – motivated by a pure, unadulterated sense of civic duty and a willingness to devote their time and talents to improving the quality of life of their neighbors.
I think most neophyte politicians – those bright-eyed newcomers who, in their naivety, still believe they can be all things to all people without crossing lines – begin with the innocent notion that politics is a noble pursuit, an honorable means to a fair and just end.
During my three-decades in government service, I had the pleasure of working with some genuinely good people who sought elective office for all the right reasons – open to constructive criticism, focused on the rules of quality governance and their fiduciary responsibility, always fighting against the forces of bureaucratic mediocrity, willing to put ego aside and practice the art of negotiation, never compromising their personal ethics or sense of fairness.
Fortunately, there are many of these selfless elected officials who work tirelessly on boards, councils, commissions, and committees throughout Volusia County.
Trust me. That is not an easy proposition in an environment where well-heeled factions work hard – and spend exorbitant sums of money – to influence public policy to their advantage – and many local candidates are hand-selected by the fusty upper crust of various partisan fishing camps (and those they report to behind the scenes), chosen exclusively for their malleability, in a place where any grassroot candidate faces an uphill battle, often from their own party infrastructure.
Don’t take my word for it, ask Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower how beating the Darling of the Donor Class by simply holding firm to his principles and running on a noble platform of serving the needs of We, The Little People has worked out for him?
I have also seen my share of well-meaning elected officials slowly succumb to the heady lies of their own inflated self-importance and surrender to the trappings and perquisites of office, finally becoming everything they despised upon entering politics, consumed by their own ego, as they are granted temporary membership in that very exclusive club – where important people fawn over them and laugh at their jokes – right up until the moment they are no longer of use to them.
That process typically starts when a D List politician develops an overweening sense of infallibility – convinced that those of us who point fingers and challenge their warped version of our grim reality have no right to criticize how the sausage is made.
So, they bleat and coo, posture, and preen – all while telling us commoners to ignore that little man behind the curtain – driven by the arrogance of power, immersing themselves in the ceremonial aspects of their “public service” – presenting puffy proclamations, rubbing elbows with the elite, and posing for pictures with “celebrity politicians” – while thousands of their constituents continue to live below the poverty line, work dead-end jobs, and suffer in silence while blight and dilapidation grips forgotten areas of the community and malignant sprawl threatens our sensitive green places and drinking water supply.
Then, rather than maintain laser focus on problem solving and developing a sustainable civic vision – they waste valuable time squabbling with their harshest critic (me), clowning for their supporters, painting a surreal picture of prosperity, and subliminally warning those who blow the whistle on this lopsided, incestuous, oligarchical system to keep their nose out of what should be the people’s business.
In my view, it is this abject arrogance that has brought us to this dim place in our history – and why many grassroots activists in the Halifax area are so passionate about changing the political culture and leveling the playing field.
I am often accused of opining on issues that do not occur where I vote – marginalized by the narrowminded argument, “He doesn’t even live (insert city, district, or zone here),” dismissed as a malevolent outside agitator, even as they crow about spending millions in federal dollars, or approving massive developments that affect the lives of tens-of-thousands who live outside the jurisdictional boundaries of the community in question.
Many ask why I bother.
After all, what is there to be gained from constantly going against the grain, pushing back against an entrenched culture that has proven, time-and-again, that it abhors constructive criticism and outside input, then works overtime to demonize and dismiss anyone who points out the absurdities of government and politics here on the Fun Coast?
Because it is important that our local government not be the exclusive playground of what The Daytona Beach News-Journal has called our “Rich & Powerful” and those cowardly marionettes who serve them from the dais of power.
The fact is, if you care about good governance in the place you live, work, and pay taxes, you should care about good governance everywhere – because in the mosaic of communities that make up Volusia County – we are wholly interdependent, with more in common than not.
Dysfunctional politics begets defective policy – and, perhaps worse, perpetuates the lack of vision and defined civic direction that has turned the World’s Most Famous Beach and beyond into a social, civic, and economic cautionary tale. . .
Now is the time for civic minded people to begin the mental and physical process of considering a run for office in 2022 and 2024.
Why bother? Because its important.
It is a sacred call to service that should not be taken lightly – especially when political contests here on Florida’s Fun Coast have taken on the characteristics of an industrial meatgrinder.
But for those intrepid few with a fire in belly – with the courage to put ego and selfish motives aside and wield the enormous power and influence of high office to make a true difference in the life of your community – the opportunity to effect substantive change where we live, work, learn, and play is worthy of the effort and sacrifice.