Editor’s Viewpoint: The little schools on the big prairie
We continue to be sharply divided over government’s role in our society. One school of thought supports limited involvement. (Government can’t do much right, anyway.) Another school of thought says government should have a large, even intrusive, role in areas they deem “abusive.” (Large soda, anyone?) Finally, there’s a school of thought that understands government has an important role to play in our lives, for example, providing safe drinking water and food, drivable roads, clean and safe streets, and protection from our enemies. That government is a place where we can discuss our contrasting views without partisan rancor. It might be hard to believe that type of government can exist. Extreme positions dominate the national discussion fueled by stories confirming government incompetency or corruption, overshadowing those about officials with extraordinary accomplishments.
Every day, American City & County searches for those who solve significant problems, as we did with this year’s County Leader of the Year, Toni Preckwinkle, president of Cook County, Ill.
Her story is about good trumping, let’s just say, not-so-good government. When you read her story, you will find a 20-year councilwoman who decided to run for the top spot in the nation’s second largest county, one that includes a history with nearly 150 of its politicians and government officials convicted of crimes since 1969.
Soon after she was elected in 2010, Toni established her position on ethical issues when she increased the Office of Inspector General’s budget by 31 percent as well as its powers of investigation. She also mandated ethics training for all employees. Still, the jaw-dropping challenge immediately facing her was a nearly half-trillion dollar budget deficit. And, that was only the beginning of the tale.
If nothing else, her first couple of years in Cook County show that government itself is neither good nor bad, but it’s the individuals who run it that cause better or worse things to happen. I don’t know that she came into her first elected position with any particular government philosophy, but 20 years as a councilwoman must have shaped her ideas significantly.
Toni’s actions show she believes that winning an elected office is not as important as earning the trust placed in her. I’ll bet that she sees America — not just her political party — as a tent, big enough to consider all ideas. Being pragmatic, she understands that Americans don’t tolerate incompetency, corruption or even extreme positions for too long, and that the system has a safety valve so that every few years its course can be adjusted at the ballot box.
It’s a beautiful idea that still works, and I’ll bet she thinks so, too.
What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.