‘To be a citizen’: Part 2

How do we reclaim the title citizen? Last time, I lamented the loss of connection – the essence of citizenship -- between those who think of themselves as citizens and the community within which they live.

  • Wednesday, May 21, 2008 12:00am
  • Opinion

How do we reclaim the title citizen? Last time, I lamented the loss of connection – the essence of citizenship — between those who think of themselves as citizens and the community within which they live.

Having the right to vote no more makes you a citizen than riding a rocket into space makes a chimp an astronaut; citizenship is more active than that. And the principle applies to those elected to office; just because you got more votes than your opponent doesn’t make you a statesman.

What, then, does? It makes sense to break it down into two categories: (1) For those who lead, and (2) for those who are led.

Those who lead – A lesson elected types should take to heart: you are not at the top of the food chain despite what your sycophants say.

In all things, leaders should respect the people — leaders are in fact servants, not masters.

Many who are in public office forget, and are offended by efforts to remind them, that the people are sovereign – in a democracy, power and legitimacy flow from the bottom up, not the top down. Regarded as a collective goose laying an inexhaustible supply of golden eggs, the people as a caste exist to underwrite the schemes and grandeur of their ruling class betters.

What the people extend to you – power, resources, prestige of office – are not yours. You are stewards of what belongs to them. Accordingly, you owe them the highest possible fiduciary duty. Every freedom or liberty you restrict is one they can no longer exercise – every tax dollar you spend is one they cannot spend themselves. The operative question ought to be, “Is this trip necessary?” When in doubt, don’t.

And there should be more doubt. “The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right,” said Judge Learned Hand in 1944. Unfortunately, this truth isn’t marching on in many city halls, county councils or in Olympia.

Don’t fear conflict, embrace it as a virtue. The Book of Proverbs teaches, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Hard objects struck together cause sparks to fly, but two better-honed pieces of iron are the result. Harry Truman’s dictum, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen,” has become almost unknown. No wonder the pot never boils – there’s no heat under it.

Dithering as governance strategy disrespects the people, yet it’s exalted as statecraft. Leadership requires stepping out and risking, not hanging back waiting for political cover to catch up with you. Those in public life should fish, not eternally cut bait.

We can’t get a new 520 bridge or the Viaduct replaced even after years of knowing they are unsafe at any speed. Locally, residents of Kirkland’s Proposed Annexation Areas are in limbo, slowly twisting in the wind while the City Council imitates the Greek mythological figure Sisyphus who was fated to forever roll a rock uphill only to see it roll down again. To paraphrase Yogi Berra, “Can’t anybody here make a decision?” Study session advisory votes don’t count.

The great 19th Century Anglo-Irish statesman, Edmund Burke said, “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.” When those in government abdicate their responsibility to exercise that judgment out of fear of becoming unpopular, they are just as craven as those who pander to become popular.

You in public office chose this life; nobody forced you on the ballot. Please, could you inspire some leadership?

Next time, I will conclude this series on citizenship by taking aim at us.

~Scott St. Clair plays his bagpipe and looks at the world from his Kirkland home. Learn about him at www.scottstclair.com. Reach him at scottstc@comcast.net.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@kirklandreporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.kirklandreporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in Opinion

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
Why should the threat to Taiwan concern us in WA? | Brunell

Unfortunately, what happens in Taiwan doesn’t just stay in Taiwan — it… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Election 2021: Closer look at King County races | Roegner

The race for Mayor of Seattle will dominate the regional media, but… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Questions surround vaccine exemptions for state workers | Roegner

With about 4,800 state employees in 24 agencies requesting vaccine exemptions, which… Continue reading

Dr. Jayendrina Singha Ray serves as Faculty of English at Highline College. Her research interests include postcolonial studies, spatial literary studies, British literature, and rhetoric and composition. Prior to teaching in the U.S., she worked as an editor with Routledge and taught English at colleges in India.
What the Afghan wants to say: Arezo’s journey to America | Guest column

In our little Zoom room, I hear my interviewee break into sobs.… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Can a Texas-style abortion law happen in Washington? | Roegner

If politicians really want to anger women voters, the easiest way is… Continue reading

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
Reasons to ban Gov. Jay Inslee’s natural gas ban | Brunell

Column: Switching from natural gas to electricity is complicated and will impact everyone.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
Vaccinations improve our health and employment numbers | Brunell

It is not surprising that COVID-19, which ravaged the world, was disastrous… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Firefighters vs. the governor’s vaccine mandate | Roegner

We all thought we were in this fight with the coronavirus together,… Continue reading

Providence employees look at anti-vaccine mandate protesters as they cross the street outside of Providence Regional Medical Center Everett on Aug. 18, 2021. Olivia Vanni/Sound Publishing
Editorial: A message to the unvaccinated and unmasked

We know you’re frustrated with mandates and advice, but consider our frustrations and, yes, our anger.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Back to the classroom during abnormal times | Roegner

If it didn’t feel so normal, we might forget about the coronavirus… Continue reading

Robert Toomey, CFA/CFP, is Vice President of Research for S. R. Schill & Associates on Mercer Island.
What’s up with the real estate market? | Guest column

As we all know, the residential real estate market and prices have… Continue reading

9/11 Memorial in Cashmere, Washington. Photo courtesy of Greg Asimakoupoulos
Twenty years after tragedy brought us together | Guest column

Recently, I was reflecting on where I was and what I was… Continue reading