My Turn: An elected representative puts people 1st

Posted: Friday, November 28, 2008

In the United States, we don't really have a "democracy" in the old Greek tradition of all the people voting on each and every issue. We have a representative democracy, in which we elect a few persons to represent our wishes, hopes, desires and best thoughts. We put all of these things on the shoulders of our representatives.

If they accept the responsibility, at times they may have to give up a better-paying job, be separated from their families for long periods or move their families to a new location to represent the people. When they accept the opportunity to be our representatives, and put that above their own personal interests, it is commendable. That's why we honor them as public servants.

But after they are elected, if they use their influence or votes for their own self interest, or use their role to benefit friends, families, or those who contribute to future elections, they are then betraying the people that elected them.

If a person is an elected official, then he or she must attend to legislative or judicial or executive matters where he or she was elected to serve. It may be a burden or difficult for them to do so, and perhaps they should have considered that before they campaigned to be elected a representative.

When the Alaska Legislature is in session, many of the members have to leave their families, home towns and children, and look for housing for themselves. It can be difficult. It would be the same, of course, for many representatives if the capital were to be in Barrow, Fairbanks, Anchorage or Dutch Harbor.

The people of Alaska elected our present governor, and her "work station" is the capital of Alaska, at the present time, Juneau. She may have many good reasons for not wanting to live in Juneau, to have her children attend school here, or live at her "work station." She may put "family first," and that may mean to her residing in a suburb of Anchorage, for her own and family benefit.

But putting family first, political party first, one's personal future first is not why politicians were elected to an office. Good, honorable elected officials have to represent their electorate or decide it is not really what they want to do.

In our tradition, an elective representative position is not just a stepping-stone to some higher position, nor a way to make money, nor a means to be re-elected - it is a sacred obligation to those who elected them. At times one may have to ask, "Is it what I want? What my family wants or what the people want?" Then they must decide what being an elective representative really means.

All talk about ethics, governmental rules and regulation, is secondary. What is important is that an elected official realizes, accepts, votes and lives as a servant of the people, not just for his or her own personal desires. That's what makes good elected officials public servants.

• Wally Olson is a resident of Auke Bay.



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