In the wake of last week’s election, Arizona’s Republicans and Democrats are left with a mixed bag of emotions. On the one hand, Democrats are thrilled with the reelection of President Barack Obama but dismayed with the loss of Senate candidate Rich Carmona and Sheriff’s candidate Paul Penzone. They are overjoyed they picked up seats in both chambers of the legislature but puzzled as to why they lost every seat on the Corporation Commission.
Republicans feel the reverse, with some so upset by President Obama’s reelection that they have signed a petition to secede from the union. And though the idea of secession is ridiculous at best, it highlights the feeling that we are living in a fractured country that is in serious need of repair.
We know where our differences lie. The billions of dollars spent on campaign attack ads made that clear. But what about our commonalities? What shared values do we have as Americans and as Arizonans?
Not that long ago, a think tank called the Center for the Future of Arizona put together a report called The Arizona We Want. The report identified eight goals important to Arizona’s citizens: quality jobs for all, 21st century careers, creating the “place to be” for talented young people, affordable healthcare, protection of Arizona’s natural environment, modern and effective transportation and infrastructure, empowered citizens, and a sense of connection to one another.
As with most public policy matters, the devil is in the details. But what if our state legislature made a concerted effort to focus their time on theses eight goals, above all else, particularly when considering our state budget? I expect we’d see a much different debate at the capitol.
And what if we, as citizens, insisted that our leaders embrace these goals above all else? We have a huge disconnect in this state between government action and citizen wishes. This was confirmed by the Center’s poll, which said 90% of Arizonans believe their elected officials do not represent their interests. That’s even worse than the rating we give Congress.
The good news in the report was that Arizonans rank high in their attachment to their community, but the bad news was that they rank low in their attachment to one another. And this, I believe, is the source of the divide between our state’s citizens and their elected officials.
The Center attributed our inability to connect with one another with our low rankings in areas of volunteerism, charitable giving and service in community organizations. That makes sense. We cannot unite with others when we fail to reach out and make an effort.
But the study also shows us that we have within our grasp a way to step up as citizens and join with our neighbors — be they Republican or Democrat or Independent – and put our imprint on government. This may be as easy as volunteering in our children’s classroom, making contributions to worthy charities or serving on a church committee. Influencing government happens when we meet with our elected officials, read our local paper, and register and vote in elections.
These are not unattainable goals, and if we learn to frame our debates around these goals, we can find ways to begin repairing our fractured state.
It’s easier to find common ground with individuals when we make an effort to know them. It’s easier to move forward when we use our shared values to bridge our divides instead of using our differences to further our rift.
In the days that follow, let’s hope this is the path our elected officials and our citizens will choose to go down. Let’s work toward perfecting our Union instead of upending it.