By Tim J. Clark
Politically within the United States, we are in the midst of what might be considered as an uncivil conflict. America has been divided into red states and blue states, with social media serving as the battleground. The casualties in this conflict include opportunity costs — the outcomes this country could have achieved had we been working together instead of battling each other. We need to make some changes if we want to improve this situation and ultimately the nation.
When most people think about making improvements at the national level of government, they consider the “top” as beginning with the President, the U.S. Congress, or a political party. However, by law, the “top” is “We the People,” according to the U.S. Constitution:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. [emphasis mine]
The vision for America is to work together toward achieving “a more perfect Union.” Working to achieve this aim must be led and supported by “We the People” and not by the red states, blue states, or “deep state” politicians and their respective interest groups. These groups add value by identifying the polarity on issues and offering nonpartisan solutions but can also be corrosive to a system that was designed to be continually improved.
Tip O’Neill, a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, reinforced that “all politics is local.” Therefore, the U.S. government can be improved starting from the local level of government.
If “We the People” can begin the transition to improve quality at the county level of government, we could demonstrate a successful approach that might inspire improvements at the state and national levels of government.
The goal at the county level would be a shared vision for the future — a plan that identifies what people want and do not want regarding economic and community development. This would be followed by action that results in outcomes that citizens would agree result in a “more perfect” county.
To achieve these results, we need more independent voters as well as a critical mass of quality leaders.
Independent Voters Are Needed
An “independent voter” is an individual who votes for the person they believe is the best candidate, regardless of any political party affiliation. The “best” representative is someone who can lead change that results in everyone benefitting or, at least not being any worse off in the long term.
I consider myself a political independent. To vote in the primaries in my home state of Indiana, you have to declare a party, so I registered as a Republican. However, I vote for the best candidate, regardless of political party affiliation. If there is not a good candidate for a position, I leave the selection blank to send a message to the parties to recruit better candidates.
Last year, 42% of Americans identified themselves as political independents, while 29% percent identified themselves as Democrats and 27% as Republicans, according to Gallup. In upcoming elections, we need more people to be independent voters. In other words, we need more people to elect individuals based on their ability to address issues and challenges rather on their political party affiliation.
Critical Mass of Quality Leaders Are Needed
While it is important to let your voice be heard by voting, elections only come every so often. That’s why we need more quality leaders.
I support the theory identified by W. Edwards Deming. His contributions for improving quality were recognized by U.S. News and World Report as one of the nine turning points in world history and by FORTUNE Magazine as among the greatest contributions to business history.
Deming believed that you need a critical mass of quality leaders to improve or transform an organization (e.g., group, community, country). Quality leaders are individuals who can apply and support the application of the better methods to improve processes and systems, resulting in outcomes where everyone gains, or at least are not any worse off in the long term.
The number of leaders needed can be calculated as the square root of an organization:
“In a small staff of 25, just 5 dedicated people who are committed to the improvement process and who work consistently will create a transformation. The same is true in a classroom. Think about getting a critical mass of students in a classroom. In a class of 30 students, the square root would be approximately 5.5. Since you can’t have half a child, round to 6. If you can get 6 students to commit and begin working with you and supporting your initiatives; you can transform the culture of the class.” — David Langford
As anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
An Example of What Is Possible
The challenges that local counties face can parallel the political polarity found at the national level. A political party can develop a monopoly on political power, which can be described as allowing a few people (along with ad-hoc project teams or interest groups) to dominate decision-making. Monopolies can lead to an abuse of power, which leads to less transparency, a lower quality of decision-making, and poorer results. It also leads to policies that benefit the few at the expense of the many.
Take, for example, the county in which I live: Brown County, Indiana. Around 15,000 people live in this small rural county. Residents appreciate its natural beauty, the rural environment, the friendly people, and our history as the “Artist Colony of the Midwest.” Key strengths include our community foundation, volunteers, and excellent schools.
Brown County has the highest concentration of forested land of any of Indiana’s 92 counties. Much of the county’s 312 square miles are state and federal lands or privately owned and not open to development. It is among the least populated county in Indiana, with a population density of just 48 people per square mile, compared with 182 statewide. The majority of employed citizens commute outside the county for work and tourism accounts for approximately 30% of jobs within the county, which contributes to a low to moderate income level.
Brown County has seen its share of challenges lately. The county government has recently implemented some policies that many residents view as being fiscally irresponsible, including:
- Approval of a fast-track process to build a $12.5 million government-owned and government-managed music venue without providing citizens an opportunity to provide input on the desirability of the project, conducting an independent feasibility study, or reviewing the complete business plan before approving the project
- A taxpayer-funded settlement for a township issue resulting from what some residents considered a hostile takeover of a volunteer fire department
- A proposal to build a new $10 million courthouse without identifying the compelling need and analyzing other alternatives
- Pushing through a $7.3 million wastewater treatment proposal without identifying the need or addressing the concerns and issues with people affected by the project
The critical mass needed to lead a transformation using methods that respect what citizens want (and do not want) regarding economic and community development is 112 (the approximate square root of 12,500 registered voters).
While we have not reached the critical mass of quality leaders yet, our network includes individuals who have opposite political positions regarding national policies but support basic governance principles. We are putting any left-wing/right-wing biases aside and working together to achieve “a more perfect county.”
The Independent Voters of Brown County IN website and Facebook page includes non-partisan suggestions for addressing our local challenges. The intent is to identify principles that could provide common ground and a strategy for improvement. A local Facebook group was also created to share information and discuss “matters that matter” to the citizens of Brown County.
How You Can Help
Legendary National Football League coach Vince Lombardi remarked that “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” A more perfect county and country requires that citizens identify their vision for “more perfect.” The next step is to work together to apply methods to continually improve the processes and systems that will lead to “catching excellence.”
If you support the concept that national-level change can be led from the “top” (“We the People”) and want to provide moral support, go to our Independent Voters of Brown County IN Facebook page and “Like” us. A few thousand “Likes” will provide some positive feedback. It will also help reinforce that it’s a small world and that local efforts can have wide-scale impacts.