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home : most recent : statewide implications August 16, 2017

6/11/2017 10:06:00 AM
EDITORIAL: We know the least about what's closest at hand

Vincennes Sun-Commercial

We know the least about that government which is closest at hand.

You can randomly stop just about anyone, say shoppers at the farmer's market on a Saturday morning, and when asked they will provide a fairly-accurate explanation of how the federal government works — with the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches, the separation of powers, etc.

Ask about state government and there's a little bit of hesitation but, with a moment or two to think about it, most can come up with a basic rendition of how it works — or how it is suppose to work — gleaned from what they recall from that chapter on the subject in their high school government textbook.

But ask about the workings of local government and there's a narrowing of the eyes, a tilting of the head, a little hemming, some hawing, eventually some embarrassed blushing.

Readers of this newspaper learn a good deal about local government — and like to share with us their outrage at some of the things they read about, which does give us a sense of purpose in life.

We're not sure how much schooling the kids get these days about local government; we doubt, given all the time teachers have to spend complying with state-mandated paperwork, that it's not much, which is too bad.

“That government is best which governs least.”

Henry David Thoreau opens his essay “Civil Disobedience” with that statement, which is usually attributed to the great-exponent of limited government, Thomas Jefferson, except that the Sage of Monticello (we have one of his Monticello bricks, you know, over at Adams Coliseum) doesn't seem to have actually used the expression — although we'd say he certainly abided by the sentiment.

Most, we think, would read that and interpret it to mean that government is best when it doesn't, in fact, govern at all — when it doesn't interfere in the lives of its constituents by telling them what they can or can't do, letting them basically live and let live.

These days, hardly anyone truly believes in this laissez-faire approach; liberals and conservatives alike look at government as a vehicle for either getting things done or for keeping things from being done, both sides using legislation (or executive orders) to accomplish their goals.

Government is not going to govern less, no matter which party is in control.

During this most-recent session of the General Assembly, with supposedly small-government Republicans firmly in control, there was a flurry of legislation enacted that usurped the control that local governments had traditionally held firmly at their hands.

Republicans, on whom we once counted to act as a reasonable bulwark against the overthrow of “home rule,” behave these days like liberal Democrats when it comes to transgressing time-honored notions of the divisions of authority between the courthouse, the statehouse and the White House.

We can't expect people to know (or care) about their local government when, every day, that local government has its authority (and, for that matter, it's responsibilities) eroded.

“That government is best which governs least.”

Even on the local level, the government governs — it collects taxes, passes zoning ordinances, adopts road plans, spends money. Some constituents argue life would be better if it governed less, others if it governed more. There's virtue in both those positions.

The workings of local government will no doubt continue to remain a mystery for many constituents, right through until that day when local government ceases any longer to exist.

Copyright #YYYY# Vincennes Sun Commercial

Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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