LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Whatever happened to representative government?

EDITOR’S NOTE: The debt figure in the following letter is incorrect. The debt issuance is in the $90 million range but that figure does not include interest.

Over the years I have attended numerous campaign kick-offs, fundraisers and candidate debates and forums. Without fail during the campaign season we hear candidates asking for our vote and telling us that they are running for whatever office so that they can serve us, their constituents.

Commonly heard are many variations of the themes of “I will represent you”, “I will listen to you”, “I will be your voice”, “I will carry your voice to whatever office”. All of these statements by candidates are designed to secure our vote and are founded on our uniquely American form of representative government.

According to definition, representative government is “An electoral system where citizens vote to elect people to represent their interests and concerns.” It is this form of representation that Americans expect when we go into the voting booth and cast a ballot for this candidate over that candidate. It is this representation that we are regularly promised by candidates.

However, what I’ve noticed is that even at the local level this level of representation barely exists.

In Odessa we have recently witnessed the outright rejection of the very idea of representative government on multiple occasions.

Despite being presented with over 3,000 signatures from Odessans requesting the right to vote on the issuance of almost $130 million in debt the Odessa City council brazenly moved ahead with the issuance of this debt. It should be noted that this number of signatures represents almost fifty percent of the total number of votes cast in the last city council races. This outcry from local voters should have been enough to have directed our city council representatives to realize that a call for a public vote was warranted as directed by those who they claim to represent.

Thursday night (9/23/2021) we saw the same type of behavior from the ECISD trustees as they voted to implement a mask mandate – however delayed – after hearing from parents and students who by almost a five to one margin clearly stated that they did not want masks to be mandated for students or staff.

It seems today that the actions of local officials are less about representing the people they claim to serve and more about their arrogant belief that they somehow know better than us lowly, uneducated and unsophisticated voters. In fact, City Councilman Steve Thompson has clearly stated on multiple occasions that city voters are just not smart enough to make informed decisions about important issues in our community and therefore he must make decisions for us.

Here’s a note to both the Odessa City Council and the ECISD Board of Trustees and all other elected officials: as voters we didn’t elect you because we believed you were the smartest people in town and we didn’t vote for you because we thought you were incredibly talented or wise and we didn’t cast our ballot for you to make decisions for us. We elected you because of your promise to hear us, to respect our desires and wishes and ultimately to cast your vote for us. We voted for you so that you could, as promised during your campaigns, represent us.

It’s time that voters once again demand true representative government and begin to hold elected officials accountable when they violate our trust. As you run for your next election expect to be questioned about and held accountable for votes that violate your promises to represent us – the voters.

Jeff Russell