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A Birthday Wish For Democracy



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A Birthday Wish For Democracy

It is common for us to ask elders on a birthday to attribute their longevity to something. Is it the glass of wine? The cold bath? The midday nap? So as our nation celebrates its 229th birthday on Monday, we ask the same question and come up with the traditional answer. The United States of America has survived as a free nation and prospered as a world economic, academic, and cultural leader because of some finely wrought democratic institutions put together during the Age of Enlightenment in a confluence of particular genius in Philadelphia. It is a testament to the power of a few self-evident truths about equality, liberty, and life to inspire and motivate generations of Americans.

It is also common for us to wish for many more healthy and prosperous years on birthdays, and that is exactly what we wish for our country. But we realize that for that wish to come true, we will have to remain inspired and motivated by our democracy. Unfortunately, a few modern-day political realities are making that harder to do.

Nowhere is democracy so direct as on the local level. If the Fourth of July is our birthday, the second Tuesday in November is our christening day on which the spirit of the democratic tradition is lit and brought to blaze year after year. This year, however, it appears that spark may fizzle on the fuse largely because Newtown’s political parties are unwilling or unable to assemble a full slate of candidates that would give Newtown voters actual choices for most key positions. Newtown’s Republican Town Committee nominating committee, to its credit, bucked tradition in 2003 and gave voters a choice of candidates and a public debate on educational issues in the school board elections. This year, it tried but was unable to repeat the favor. And this month, the Republicans are expected to formally decide not to field a candidate to oppose incumbent First Selectman Herb Rosenthal. When it comes to the underticket, the Democrats, thinking small, have made it their habit in recent elections not to compete, but to take only their portion as prescribed for the minority party in the charter. One happy exception is the Legislative Council elections, where political competition fortunately has survived.

Newtown cannot lay the entire blame on the ineffectiveness of the two political parties in recruiting and fielding local candidates. Rank-and-file party members may attend the political caucuses later this month and fill out the tickets with the help of a few friends. And unaffiliated voters, the largest bloc of voters in town, always have the option of petitioning their way onto the ballot in November. It is surprisingly easy. The number of names on a petition for a place on the ballot need only exceed one percent of the total vote cast for that position in 2003. If you want to run for first selectmen or the school board this year, you need to get 63 valid names on a petition to do so. Interested in a council seat? Thirty names should do it. Check with the town clerk’s office for details.

On this Fourth of July weekend, think about what it will take to inspire and motivate you to ensure the future health and prosperity of our local democratic institutions. Then do what ever it takes to bolster your resolve — a glass of wine, a cold bath, a midday nap — and get involved.

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