‘What do you want from your government?’

By Rosa Scarcelli, Special to the BDN
Posted Sept. 22, 2010, at 8:31 p.m.

“Take it down a notch, for America.” So says one of the most, if not the most, influential voices in American politics and culture today. What does it say about the state of our discourse that today’s voice of reason comes to us from a self-described “fake news” anchor on the Comedy Central cable network?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m planning to go to Jon Stewart’s Oct. 30 “Rally to Restore Sanity” on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. As he points out, someone needs to stand up for the rest of us who, well, don’t really feel like standing up right now, thank you.

I count myself as one of those, like Stewart, who thinks it shouldn’t be just those who make the loudest noises that get heard. So allow me to lower my voice, too, and write to you in my everyday speaking tone. I hope you can hear me.

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that we in America, and in Maine, face a substantial list of critical issues that must be resolved quickly in order to put us back on track. Given the urgency of many of these issues, it’s tempting to jump up and down and shout. Tempting, but certainly not necessary, and, I would argue, perhaps more counter to finding real, lasting solutions than the alternative reaction with which we have become wholly unfamiliar: sensible discussion.

So much of what we’re debating is ultimately about what it is we want our government to do for us. Does the shouting from the edges really help the rest of us think clearly while we find the best answer to this complex question?

I think about how issues are resolved every day in the business world: by and large with loads of data, thoughtful analysis and discussion, and very little drama. The key, of course, is action, what happens after the debate is settled and decisions are made.

Perhaps that’s where we’ve gotten lost. Our faith and trust that government can actually get anything accomplished has fallen into the ever widening partisan divide. That’s fine for the partisans; it gives them even more to protest for or to rail against, but it does little for rest of us. We watch as the actors up on the stage help us confuse ideology with effectiveness.

The age-old dispute between those effectively arguing for either bigger or smaller government is a prime example. I believe what most of us really care about and want is dramatically smarter government, rather than a certain size government.

If we removed all the frustration and blame from the debate, I’d bet we’d all agree far more than we disagree on the fundamental issues at hand. Of course, there will always be genuine, and at times deeply held, differences on some issues, and that’s what makes this country great — by finding the common ground, we can still maintain respectful diversity.

But regardless of whether you sit on the left, the right or in the center, we should all be able to expect our government to deliver measurable value for our tax dollars. In the real world, if you or I have handed over our money for goods or services to a private company, we reasonably expect to get what we paid for. Why should we hold our government to a different standard?

Of course government can’t be run exactly like a business, but we can’t ignore the best lessons of responsible management that business can teach us. The business ideals of best practices, efficiency, innovation, transparency, accountability and thoughtful debate resulting in concrete action are all essential to good government.

The fiscal reality in Maine — that there’s no longer an easy solution available in raising revenue or cutting expenditures — leaves us with little option but to consider a whole new operating system, rather than continuing to fiddle with the software.

Which brings us back to the central question we must answer first before we can solve all the rest: What do you want from your government?

All are welcome to the discussion, but please, bring your indoor voice.

Rosa Scarcelli is CEO of Stanford Management, an affordable housing provider in Maine and three other states. As a Democratic candidate for governor, she gained a strong following in the 2010 primary. To see more, go to www.rosaformaine.com.

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/09/22/opinion/what-do-you-want-from-your-government/ printed on August 2, 2014