Hilary Hodge: Democracy should come from citizens first | TheUnion.com

Hilary Hodge: Democracy should come from citizens first

In 2010, Roy Ashburn, then a Republican California State Senator representing the conservative district of Kern County, was arrested on drunk driving charges after leaving a gay night club in Sacramento.

The media latched on to this incident not because of the terrible crime of drunk driving but because of the venue Ashburn was caught visiting. Many people speculated that Ashburn was gay. There was a lot of interest in Roy Ashburn’s social life because his political life was regularly and fervently anti-gay. Ashburn was known for voting against LGBT-friendly legislation and openly endorsed the 2008 anti-marriage-equality proposal, Proposition 8.

After his arrest, Roy Ashburn openly admitted to being a gay man.

This revelation about Roy Ashburn infuriated voters on both the left and the right side of the aisle. Conservatives felt as though they had been duped and progressives wondered why a man would betray the gay community and vote with such hypocrisy. In an interview after the incident, Ashburn defended his voting record, explaining that he voted based on the will of the people in the district he was elected to represent, not of his own personal interests. This is something that has always stuck with me because it is exactly the way that American democracy is supposed to work.

Every vote counts and every voter matters.

We elect people to represent our interests and our concerns at the local, state, and national levels. Our elected officials aren’t supposed to be floating their personal agendas. Our elected officials are supposed to be making policy initiated from their electorate. For some reason, in recent years, this concept has gotten away from the American people and has gotten far away from American government. We do not elect people so that they may feed us some sort of political platform and then jam their own agendas through our government in order to get laws passed that do not serve the community as a whole.

We should not be electing people who tell us “Here’s what I’m going to do.”

We should be electing people who ask us, “What do you want me to do?”

Living in Nevada County during an election year can be both frustrating and exciting. It’s tough to see neighbors and friends argue about the issues and candidates. It’s hard to see so much discontented chatter about candidates and measures. But it’s rousing to see so many people take a stand on the issues that affect our community.

It’s incredible that our candidates show up at coffee houses and go door to door. It’s wonderful to live in a place where the representatives shop in the same places where their constituents shop. There are so many local people volunteering to help with local and national campaigns. It’s delightful to think that the issues on our ballots may come down to just a few votes and that every vote matters.

In one week, we will have the chance to go to the polls and elect people who are supposed to act on behalf of the will of the community. Our candidates are accessible. They all have websites with public emails and, in many cases, public phone numbers. We all have the opportunity to contact these people who are running to represent us and get an idea about who they really are. Don’t just vote for the person who has the most signs. Vote for the person you trust to represent you and really take the time to figure out who that person is.

And after the election, take the time to hold your elected officials accountable.

Roy Ashburn could have ran a campaign based on conservative values and then, after winning, he could have gone to Sacramento and voted based on what he personally wanted. But he didn’t do that.

Instead, he voted against his own self-interest in order to allow the people in his district to have their voices heard. Even after his scandal tarnished his career, he was still trusted and respected by his colleagues. Roy Ashburn served on the State of California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board until 2015.

Democracy is supposed to come from the citizens first. Our representatives are supposed to listen to the citizens and then initiate bills and policy. Our first responsibility as citizens living in a democracy is to make an informed vote. Our second responsibility is to hold our elected officials accountable to the electorate.

In one week, let us all go to the polls. In one week and one day, let us all stay involved.

Hilary Hodge lives in Grass Valley. Her column is published by The Union on Tuesdays. Contact her at hhodgewriter@gmail.com.

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