AVALLONE: Why Barbara Norton’s Comments Matter

Editor’s Note: A guest post by Louis R. Avallone.

By now, many of you have heard about Louisiana State Representative Barbara Norton’s comments about how the Declaration of Independence is “unfair” and “not the truth”, regarding her opposition to a bill in the state legislature mandating that schoolchildren in Louisiana be taught the Declaration of Independence.

Some have been upset, to say the least. Others, not so much.

But what she said matters, and it matters a lot, and not just because so many disagree with her. Here’s why it matters so much more than this one particular issue itself:
You see, our elected officials can’t just show up and “check the box” without the same level of careful preparation and practice that a musician requires to play a musical instrument well, or that a pilot needs to fly an airplane safely, or that doctor must have before performing a surgery competently. But unlike the musician who plays out of tune, being an unprepared state legislator (or school board member, member of Congress, etc.) can have far more significant consequences, because of the number of lives affected in our communities, sometimes in the millions – and this incompetence has nearly bankrupt our nation financially, morally, spiritually, and diminished our national security around the world.

Yes, our elected officials have a great responsibility, regardless of whether they are prepared or not. They can support legislation to encourage businesses to relocate to our community, along with good paying jobs for families, or they cause those businesses to leave through higher and higher taxes. Our elected officials can improve the education system, and provide resources to inspire a love of learning in our children, or condemn them to a lifetime of barely making the grade. They can remain silent to the erosion of our liberties, reduce our national security, or make decisions that will send our nation’s sons and daughters into harm’s way.

Yet even with all of this opportunity to “make a dent in the universe” through public service, not only are young people disgusted with politics today, and are skeptical of its usefulness to make meaningful change, there is also now a reluctance of good candidates to run for public office. In fact, only one out of three believe running for public office is honorable, and even fewer feel that the idea of working in some form of public service is appealing to them – and the numbers show it. In 2012, for example, nearly half of state legislative districts in our country did not have any competition from both major political parties, marking the lowest level of competition the parties, and the fewest choices in candidates for the voters, in over 10 years.

And if you have an electorate that is increasingly more unaware of our American history, and the principals upon which our nation (and the Declaration of Independence) was written, this only serves to exacerbate the crisis we have in this country of electing competent, honest officials to public office.

Thomas Jefferson said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” That’s because knowledge is freedom in a democracy. Less engaged voters, plus more and more elected officials who are not prepared for the job they were elected to do, will eventually reduce the pool of talented candidates interested in public service to a handful of those barely worth keeping in office at all.

You see, as voters, we must be in the “people” business. As Jack Welch, the former Chairman and CEO of General Electric said, “We spend all our time on people,” he says, “The day we screw up the people thing, this company is over.” Unfortunately, the exact same is true for our government, from every city hall, school board, statehouse, and all the way to the White House.

So yes, when State Representative Barbara Norton says on the floor of the Louisiana House of Representatives that “all men are not created equal”, it confirms what so many already believe: We’ve messed up this “people thing” in government. And it’s time that the voters start doing something about it – like a boss.

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