Column: We vote for representatives, then entrust them with choices

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 9, 2002

&uot;Political action is the highest responsibility of a citizen.&uot; &045;John F. Kennedy, in an Oct. 20, 1960 speech

Election time is upon us once again, and in Albert Lea, we are fortunate to have an impressive pool of well-qualified candidates to choose from. Tomorrow, the primary election will be held to determine which of those candidates will appear on the final ballot for the general election in November.

Regrettably, some people do not view the primary election as important, and, consequently, wait until the “real” election in November. Although tomorrow’s election will not determine our next mayor, sheriff or, in some cases, city councilor, it is in some respects as important as the general election. The primary election will eliminate three mayoral candidates, one sheriff candidate, and, for some voters, two city councilor candidates &045; one each from Wards Two and Four.

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Once a candidate is eliminated, their campaign is over. They don’t get another chance to rally voters to their cause until the next election year. This is specifically why voting in primary elections is important, particularly on the local level. After that point, our selection becomes more limited. It is not simply a popularity contest held to see who would be elected at that point.

Voting is more than a right. It is a responsibility. I encourage everyone to go to the polls tomorrow and vote. It is our chance to have a voice in who becomes a part of our local government, and therefore a voice in the future of our community. Nobody can benefit from that which goes unused, and that includes our right to vote.

However, despite my support of voting, I also believe that some things should never be put to a vote. Although some people will passionately disagree with me on this, I don’t believe that the proposed new courthouse and jail complex should be put to a public referendum. This belief has nothing to do with my views on the issue. I believe that some decisions should be entrusted to our elected officials. That is precisely why we elect them.

If the public were allowed to vote on every issue affecting the community, there would be no need for local government. The voting public would collectively make all decisions. Although to some people this type of government would have some appeal, any benefits would be overshadowed by the disadvantages. Putting everything to a public vote would mean just that &045; everything. Because there are few situations that directly benefit everyone in the community, virtually every proposal would be voted down by those who didn’t want to pay for it. This would lead to little or no progress being made anywhere &045; and nobody could be held accountable.

Imagine having the right to vote against funding for lake cleanup, city parks, street resurfacing and equipment for police and fire department employees. The lakes would stagnate, streets would crack and crumble, parks would close and be developed into convenience stores, and the police and fire departments would have to make do with less modern equipment. The only way to combat these side effects would be to charge everyone on a per-use basis. How many people would want to have to pay $5 to drive down a street, $25 to swim in the lake, or even worse, pay the police $500 to stop someone from breaking into his or her home?

Though I am in favor of some decisions without the benefit of a public vote, I do believe that the courthouse proponents have displayed poor timing with this decision. Another school referendum is on the horizon, this time with the option to vote on different levels of funding. Having no option to vote on the courthouse may adversely affect the success of the school referendum. Some people won’t want to vote to have their property taxes raised a second time when they will already be raised once without their approval.

It is unfortunate for the students that those who decided not to hold a referendum on the courthouse failed to consider this. It is ironic that those who made that decision are elected officials.

Dustin Petersen is an Albert Lea resident. His column appears Mondays.