Saipan — In a book published in 1884, Herbert Spencer wrote that the “mischiefs wrought by uninstructed lawmaking, enormous in their amount as compared with those caused by uninstructed medical treatment, are conspicuous to all who do but glance over its history.”
That’s still a problem today. Not a lot of us are interested in history unless they’re two- (or less) minute clips on YouTube.
So in each election year (and this is an election year), we will hear concerned educated citizens say things like: “I want to make a difference because I know I can contribute in some way. I have to give it a try. I’m running for office.”
Reporters, for their part, will interview these concerned educated citizens and ask questions such as: “What is your platform? How will you solve the islands’ problems?” As if governing and legislating are academic pursuits like written and oral tests for which you must provide the “right answers.”
In the CNMI’s case, its economy — still limping because of the typhoons that hit the three main islands in Sept.-Oct. 2018 — has been bushwhacked by a virus outbreak in the Commonwealth’s second largest tourism market, China. The CNMI government’s FY 2020 budget, which was less than the previous fiscal year’s, has to be reduced again, this time by close to 30 percent. Many of us say that tourism is the CNMI’s only industry. Actually, it has another industry, and it’s called government. It is the single largest employer of local residents — that is, voters.
Now if democratic government is nothing else but a company in which employees get to vote on how much they should get paid, just imagine the financial cataclysm now staring CNMI leaders in the face.
And so the “solution” is…elect another set of “new” and “educated” leaders! Because that did the trick the last time around, right? Right?!
(Breathe in, breathe out…serenity now!)
Anyway. This election year I plan to ask the new and educated concerned citizens who are seeking office the following questions:
• Do you know what you’re getting into? Do you know what lawmakers, the governor or other elected officials actually do every day? Are you familiar with the state of the government’s finances — the government’s obligations and liabilities current and future? These include the Settlement Fund and bond payments, utilities, public health, medical referrals, public education, the community college, scholarships, public safety, the courts, public works, homesteads, land compensation, etc. etc. Do you know how the government funds all of them? Do you know where the money comes from, how is it spent, who makes those decisions and how are those decisions made?
• Why do you think that your ideas are new and have never been proposed and/or tried before? Are you familiar with what previous and current elected officials have done or are doing to address these issues? What makes your proposals different? Do you know that some laws have never been implemented or could not be implemented? And that many of those implemented produced consequences that are the opposite of the proponents’ intent?
• Do you know what the “people” want? Are you aware that in politics, there is no such thing as “the people,” and that real people are government employees, retirees, businesspersons, private sector employees, people on welfare, etc. — and not all of them agree on many things, if at all?
• Do you know how to win an election, and what it takes to mount a successful campaign?
• Do you know that politics will make you say things you don’t believe in, and do things you wish you didn’t have to?
• And lastly, are you nuts?
Well, maybe not that question.
Now we all know that mechanics, plumbers, electricians, computer technicians, nurses, doctors, and a lot of other professionals, including journalists, have to immerse themselves in the actual job and to experience it day in, day out for a certain period of time — through internship/apprenticeship — before they are considered ready for it. In many key areas of our everyday lives we want to be served by skilled and experienced individuals who are considered experts. And yet in the case of government officials who will have to make critical decisions that can affect our communities, families and our very lives we say we should elect “fresh faces”…as if elections are auditions for a soap commercial.
Zaldy Dandan is editor of the CNMI’s oldest newspaper, Marianas Variety, and author of three books available on amazon.com