Civil, Open Discourse Necessary to Democracy


This article, originally published by Al Zucaro on, is preserved for historical purposes by Massive Impressions Online Marketing in Boca Raton.
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An editorial with permission from  Mary Kate Leming, Editor, The Coastal Star

I was raised in Illinois. The Land of Lincoln.  I have heartland values. Maybe that’s why this election year has been so disturbing to me. It seems I’m just not angry enough or afraid enough to embrace the hate-filled mentality that has gripped the American political psyche.
In my Midwestern heart I’ve always believed that democracy embraces different groups, interests and opinions; that its elected officials hold ongoing discussions with their constituents and follow the rules of law to sort through passion-filled rhetoric and reach compromise without abandoning civility.
I was taught the alternative of democracy was dictatorship or governance by cabal. Those are frightening options to consider.
When casual discussion turns to the theatrics of national politics, I tend to get on my soapbox and suggest we all turn off the TV and focus on what’s happening locally. That’s what matters, I say. The important politics are local politics. In a small town it’s important to be neighborly about our disagreements.
I’m not so sure anymore. It seems to me that even some local elections have become mean-spirited.
Through the years, I’ve observed small-town elections influenced by behind-the-scenes politics. No surprise. And new or unknown candidates have always made a sitting commission nervous. That’s to be expected.
But when an elected commission actively and publicly campaigns against one of its colleagues, it raises more than eyebrows. It calls out questions about transparency. Why is a 5-0 vote so important? Good question.
Maybe Ocean Ridge should have made a call to Boca Raton before embarking on unified public endorsements against a sitting commissioner.
Remember Boca Raton’s 2012 TV commercials? The questions they raised about Sunshine Law violations? The re-election of the commissioner in an apparent backlash to this unified, public endorsement of his competition?
In Boca Raton, vocal and well-organized groups have grown out of the distrust of a commission that felt the need to push for a 5-0 vote. These groups have not been afraid to sue the city when they felt their rights were violated. They have remained vigilant.
This is the natural outcome of elected officials forgetting that their jobs require listening to different groups, interests and opinions.
Call me Midwestern, but I still believe open discourse is as essential to democracy as the right to vote. And last time I looked, we all still had that right. Use it.

Mary Kate Leming, Editor, Coastal Star



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