Elected mayor is a step toward more-real democracy

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http://heightsobserver.org/read/2019/10/02/elected-mayor-is-a-step-toward-morereal-democracy
by Greg Coleridge

People the world over are increasingly demanding a greater voice in the decisions directly affecting their lives, communities, nations and natural world.

Many/most government, corporate, media, educational and religious “leaders” are increasingly publicly perceived as unaccountable, not transparent, captured by special interests, corrupt and disconnected from the problems affecting people in their everyday lives. Rather than exploring real alternatives to our fundamental problems, our “leaders” seem visionless.

Our own nation’s history is filled with profound movements to give greater voice to citizens over elites. These include a colonial revolution against a self-anointed king; popular resistance to a new Constitution until the Bill of Rights was added; and social movements to provide voting rights to freed slaves, women, indentured servants and indigenous people, as well as to directly elect senators (formerly appointed by legislatures). Those who strive to end voter suppression, gerrymandering, big money in elections, and corporate personhood represent this movement today for real democracy. So do those advocating for ranked choice voting, direct election of the U.S. President and, specifically at the local level, direct participatory governance.

It is this spirit for a greater public voice that drives the effort in Cleveland Heights to popularly elect a mayor.

Let’s be clear: there is no single solution to the challenges Cleveland Heights faces, some of which are rooted beyond our community and beyond our ability to directly influence. All we can do is maximize opportunities for both residents and elected representatives to be mutually heard and accountable.

There is also no single form of government that should be seen as forever, or blindly believed to be adequate. Times change. Conditions change.

Choosing a mayor and appointing a city manager should no longer be “in house” decisions—actions beyond the reach of voters. Let Cleveland Heights voters decide.

Having city council selecting who will be city manager and who will be mayor isn’t remotely the same as citizens directly electing who will represent us and our interests in running the city. Accountability and responsibility under the current system is too dispersed. It’s too easy to pass the buck. We need a full-time mayor (with professional staff) who is directly accountable to voters.

There are those with concerns that a reformed system will invite outside influence from special interests who could flood the local mayoral campaign with political contributions. This implies that special interests currently have no influence on public policy-making, which is not true, though it may be more hidden. It also ignores the reality that politically astute Cleveland Heights voters will see through and reject blatant attempts by special interests to manipulate our elections.

Direct voter election of a mayor is consistent with the current trend to provide residents and citizens a greater authentic voice—which is essential to improve civil skills and competence, to increase a sense of community, and to make people feel more personally responsible for public decisions.

There will be many possibilities to tap our collective skills as we face a future of uncharted political, economic, social and ecological challenges. An urgent first step, however, is to transform the “in-house” selection of the mayor to a public election. Cleveland Heights is our collective “house.” All who dwell here should have the right to decide who will represent us.

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Greg Coleridge is national outreach director of Move to Amend Coalition, and a Cleveland Heights resident.

“Democracy Day” Public Hearing Testimony

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Testimony of Greg Coleridge
5th Annual Democracy Day Public Hearing
Cleveland Heights, Ohio | January 25, 2018

The federal Republican tax measure passed at the end of 2017 wasn’t a bill as much as a reward — to corporations and the super wealthy.

According to the Tax Policy Center, the top 1 percent will receive 34 percent of the corporate tax cut benefit, and the top 20 percent, 70 percent of the benefit. Eliminating the estate tax only benefits those individuals with wealth exceeding $5 million ($10 million for married couples). Eliminating the corporate and reducing the individual alternative minimum tax also benefits only corporations and the super rich.

Republican Rep. Chris Collins stated about the bill: “My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again.’” Sen. Lindsey Graham reportedly asserted that if the GOP doesn’t pass the bill, “contributions will stop.” Just 13 days after the tax law was passed, Charles Koch and his wife donated nearly $500,000 to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s joint fundraising committee. This is legalized bribery at its most blatant and sickening form.

So if corporate and individual donors are the winners of the tax bill, who are the losers? The nearly $1.5 trillion increase to the federal deficit will be paid by poor, working and middle class in spending cuts to government programs (including Social Security and Medicare if the Republicans have their way) and tax increases once the very modest tax cuts to the middle class end after eight years. Up to 13 million people also stand to lose their health insurance due to the tax bill/reward. That includes me. I doubt too many of these 13 million were the donors to its Republican supporters. I sure the hell wasn’t.

States and cities are also losers. It will be harder for states and cities to pay their bills. Ending the federal estate tax, reducing individual and corporate taxes and capping federal deductions for state and local taxes will have the double hit of reducing revenue and increasing calls to reduce state and local taxes. I don’t envy any state and local elected official having to deal with these twin challenges.

The rights of corporations and the super wealthy to donate or invest in politics since constitutionally corporations are “persons” and money is “speech” is a major reason for this historic tax heist. But we would be irresponsible here tonight if we did not underline that perversion of the First Amendment by corporations and the super rich is not the only constitutional problem.

Constitutional perversion by corporations claiming “personhood” transcends the First Amendment — and has done so for 130 years. Corporations have claimed 4th Amendment search and seizure rights, 5th Amendment takings rights, 14th Amendment due process and equal protection right — as well as other provisions of the First Amendment beyond the right to speak — including the right not to speak and, thanks to the bizarre Hobby Lobby decision, religious rights. The Commerce and Contracts clauses have also been hijacked to overturn hundreds of democratically enacted laws at the state and local levels.

None of this will ever change is all we do is focus on elections, laws or regulations. I wish it was that easy. It will only chance by changing the foundational governing rules of our nation — by amending the US Constitution, as Move to Amend proposes, to end all never intended corporate constitutional rights and money defined as free speech via the We the People Amendment, H.J.R 48.

In Lewis Carroll’s Through The Looking Glass, Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying, one can’t believe impossible things.” In response, the Queen countered, “I daresay you haven’t had much practice…When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

The history of social change in this country via social movements has always been about people believing in the impossible and acting on it. The result – depending on external circumstances and internal preparation – was what was seen as impossible in one year or era became inevitable in the next. Every single social change that expanded the rights to human beings in this nation was considered at first impossible.

Move to Amend’s We the People Amendment is inevitable if we are to avoid the complete evaporation of what’s left of our representative democracy. The Republican tax bill is one more ghastly and in your face reality that our government is fundamentally broken and only We the People can fundamentally fix it.