As the midterm elections draw near, millions of voters will bemoan their choices and decry that they are resigned to choose the “lesser of two evils.” But how did it come to that? Where are all the honorable, ethical, respectful political representatives dedicating a few years of their lives to public service? Well I can tell you. Jeanne Harris killed them in their infancy.
Ok, to be fair, Jeanne Harris may have only been responsible for killing a few people in Vancouver, WA, but there are Jeanne Harris’ across the country, killing not only participation from those who might be tempted to toss their hat into the political ring but also killing citizen participation in the governance process.
Wait, you don’t know who Jeanne Harris is? Don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of her either. Jeanne Harris is currently a councilwoman in Vancouver, Washington. As a council member, Harris is supposed to listen to her constituents, address their needs and concerns, and either vote on issues that affect her area or create mandates to protect and improve the area. In short, her job is to listen to the people and do what she can to address their issues.
However at the September 13, Vancouver city council meeting, Harris showed political colleagues and members of the public, exactly who she believed was in charge. After attacking a member of the public who attempted to discuss a contentious light rail/toll issue, telling him that he was not allowed to address separate council members by name, Jeanne Harris went on to tell him that she had the right to censor him and that he didn’t have the right to speak saying, “this is our meeting and we will have it the way we want it.”
She continues to berate the man until another council member (Jeanne Stewart) attempts to point out that the public shouldn’t be interrupted and censored. Harris then erupts at the her claiming that she is only injecting because “they are your friends, they are the people that support you.”
“We can not have council determining what citizens can say and what they can’t say,” pleads Stewart
Harris storms back,“YES we can, yes we can! This is our meeting”
“Then how would that not be censorship” counters Stewart
Harris dismisses the entire notion of freedom of speech. “If they want to talk about that they can use public TV, Fort Vancouver TV. We can determine how to run our meeting.”
Harris then continues to inturpt and condescend her collogues. When the Mayor, Timothy Leavitt (who does nothing to stop Harris from berating both council members and members of the public) asks the speaker to summarize his position, Harris interrupts, “Your done. Your done. Thank you for coming” and dismisses him.
Mr. Herman, the next citizen to step to the podium gets even more of an earful from Harris. While he had come to voice his opinion on the light rail project and impending tolls, he is immediately sidetracked by Mayor Leavitt who directs him to use the quarterly town-hall style meetings to address his opinions.
Harris interjects and demands to know, “What do you have to say to us tonight?”
Taken aback by the abrupt way in which he is cut off he counters, “Jeanne Harris you are a very disgraceful person tonight.”
Harris then erupts, waving her hand at the Mayor and demanding, “gavel him down! gavel him down! gavel down!” She points at Mr. Herman yelling, “Out! You are dismissed! You are dismissed. You can come back next week. Leave! Your done!”
Council woman Stewart, steps in to defend a member of the public for the second time that evening, demanding, “Council members can not tell people to leave or when they can come back.”
Harris then yells at her, “Yes they can, yes they can!”
Mr. Herman, who has not raised his voice through the entire episode responds, “you really lose the respect of your constituents, when this goes on…”
The Mayor attempts to get things back on track while Harris collects her belongings, gets up and storms out.
Harris however hasn’t left the building. After the televised council meeting concluded, Harris returns to attack Jeanne Stewart, berating her for chastising her on TV.
I will avoid commenting on the incredible ego of someone who is unashamed to conduct themselves in this manner in public, not to mention on television. Harris has in fact issued a half-hearted apology to Jeanne Stewart, now that an ethics hearing is being conducted into her actions. However, Harris has not groveled and begged forgiveness, instead she sent out an email to other council members from her Allstate Insurance office, saying, “thanks for making my life hell.”
This type of behavior, especially by an elected official, under-minds the entire political process. Harris’ behavior turns away others who might make much better public servants simply because they don’t want to have to deal with the abuses. It also dissuades citizens from voicing their concerns and opinions about public matters. Who wants to be berated, scolded, and dismissed in public?
The payoff for Harris is an unchallenged seat and a one way ticket into state and eventually national politics. By making politics as unappealing as possible to potential challengers and by insuring that the citizens of Vancouver are unrepresented and apathetic, she doesn’t have to concern herself with appeasing voters. She simply gets voted in again and again as an incumbent. This is a tried and true method employed by Democrats like Jeanne Harris (and some Republicans) to insure a lifetime of political power and wealth.
Participants in the council meeting were outraged and the meeting (which was being filmed for television) quickly found its way onto YouTube. But these events are not unique. In city council meetings in town big and small all across this country, a similar abuse is being played out. As voters we can no longer whine about the quality of candidates on a state and national level when we don’t bother to involve ourselves in local politics. While Jeanne Harris may be a political killer, she is being enabled by other council members and the mayor, who did not stand up for the constituents who voted them into power.
We don’t need a crystal ball to predict what type of people will be on the ballot during the next election cycle. We only need to drop in on our next local city council meeting. If we don’t stop killers like Jeanne Harris today, we have no one to blame but ourselves when we have poor choices in the future. The less or two evils is still evil, and if we do nothing to stop all the Jeanne Harris’ out there, no matter which party they represent, we get the government that we deserve.