By Mary Westwood, Chair of the Yellowstone County Platform Committee
(Any opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author, but the words of the Montana Democratic Platform are available to all and should encourage discussion and understanding among all Montanans.)
What is good government? Democrats believe that good government is always a “government of the people, by the people and for the people” as President Abraham Lincoln described it in his famous Gettysburg Address. And, as Lincoln recognized in his well known speech, government is a crucial means to complete the unfinished business of creating a nation where all people are equal and realize their full potential as citizens of our country.
Our mutual commitment to the aspirations of our nation’s founders and the many changes time and knowledge bring to any nation require that we have a means to solve the problems that inevitably arise over our long history. The United States Constitution gives us a fine outline for how government should function, but it is always the people who must hold government accountable for its actions and make sure that elected, appointed and employed officials continuously work for the interests of all citizens.
That is why free and convenient exercise of the right to vote is crucial in the people’s oversight of our system of government. Efforts to restrict the right to vote do not serve the public interest and can interfere with the peoples’ efforts to have the government they want and deserve. All elected, appointed and employed government officials must be servants of the public interest, which is diverse and always in need of well-qualified individuals who are willing to understand, balance and resolve differences of opinion to meet the needs of the variety of citizens who make up our amazing country.
Government is the best means to accomplish certain goals, such as protecting public health and safety, protecting individuals from overreach by other individuals or entities, sustaining and promoting community and fair commerce, and protecting cultural assets and traditions. Government also has been especially effective in education by providing free public education to all the people in an effort to make them better citizens and to allow them to achieve their highest potential.
Some try to blame “The Government” for things that go wrong in our society, but good government is the product of an engaged citizenry who are doing their job in holding those in power accountable. Rather than complain, people need to find out what is really going on and take action to address any problems they find. That is why Democrats also support transparency. Both the U.S. Constitution and the Montana Constitution have provisions that give the public access to information about their government and, often, the right to comment and be in the room when decisions are being made. Just exercising these rights makes officials more accountable.
And what is need to make good government function properly other than the active involvement of the people? Resources to carry out the functions of government. In other words, taxes. Democrats support a fair and equitable tax system that has all entities in our nation contributing to our common goals.
Recently, I received a flier from a candidate who claimed to support both lower taxes and more amenities for our people. No one is magician enough to fulfill such a promise. If taxes are lowered, services and amenities are cut. And, as has happened recently in our nation, lowering taxes at one level of government often means that another level of government is forced to pick up the slack or citizens must go without necessary services.
The issue that often arises is concern over what we are getting for our tax dollars. Take all the taxes you pay and consider what you get for that amount of money: police and fire protection, education for the children of your community, roads, bridges, health care services for yourself and members of your community, support for jobs and businesses, clean water and air, recreational opportunities, national parks, aircraft safety, banking regulation, consumer protection, national defense and food safety just to name a few. In many countries, such amenities and protections are distant dreams.
There are inequities in the tax system, but people can address those issues by actively participating in government. Why should a corporation or individual earning millions of dollars in profit pay less in taxes than a working person? Why should a homeowner with no profits pay more in taxes than a business with high profits? These are all issues that we, as employers of our public servants need to address by using our best efforts to do our job as citizens and continually improve our government. We are the government and must take our responsibility seriously and continue to improve our county, state and nation.
This is what the Montana Democratic Party Platform has to say about good government. Good Government We view government as the means by which individuals work together to solve mutual problems, balance competing interests, and accomplish common goals. Good government meets its constitutional obligations to protect health and safety and to promote community, commerce, and culture. At every level, good government is open, accountable, and responsive to the people.
- Local control, along with the local discretion and flexibility needed for responsive, efficient, and effective provision of services to the public.
- Open, transparent and accessible government so that Montanans can exercise vigilance in holding our federal, state and local officials accountable and take part in government decision-making.
- The rights of local, tribal, state, and federal governments to enact and implement non-discrimination ordinances that make our communities welcoming places for Montanans of any sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
- Cooperative and mutually respectful efforts among local, state, tribal and federal levels of government to provide services and to respond to emerging needs.
- Collaborative efforts between government bodies and private entities to create a robust and modern infrastructure that meets needs and expands opportunities for all communities and all Montanans.
- Open, free, fair, and transparent elections, including Montana’s open primary election, which encourage participation by all citizens, acknowledging that one person’s voting power is equivalent to every other’s.
- Campaign finance reform to protect the voice of Montana voters against the dominance of large moneyed interests in electoral and political matters.
- The assurance of voting rights to all citizens and expanded voter participation, particularly in historically disenfranchised populations.
- Fair redistricting of all governmental jurisdictions based on a thorough and accurate count of population.
- A Constitutional amendment to establish an affirmative right to vote and have one’s vote counted equally.
- The statutory authority of local boards of health to protect the public health of communities.
- A Constitutional amendment clarifying that Bill of Rights protections apply only to natural persons, and ensuring that governments may limit the money any individual or entity spends to influence candidates or elections.
- Governmental decision-making based on scientific and verifiable facts.
- The diversion of public funding to private entities for the provision of public services.
- All efforts to suppress lawful voting through repeal of current practices, the imposition of unnecessary barriers to voting, intimidation, and disinformation.
- Legislation or other governmental intrusion into decisions reserved to the privacy of individuals.
- Cost-shifting or unfunded mandates that burden one level of government with the obligations of another.
- Recognizing corporate human rights under the Constitution and money as protected speech.
- The misrepresentation of party or issue affiliation by election candidates, political organizations, ballot initiative groups, or other organizations or individuals.
- Any gerrymandering.
- The privatization or under-funding of essential public services, such as the United States Postal Service.
This is what the Montana Democratic Party Platform has to say about taxation.
We seek a progressive, broad-based, equitable tax system that reflects and enhances our changing economy and adequately supports a full range of quality public services and public education. We believe in being fiscally responsible while promoting quality of life and equality of opportunity for all our citizens.
- Public disclosure of how public funds are currently used, how proposed new taxes will be used to improve programs and services, and how proposed tax cuts will affect existing programs and services.
- Updating and equalizing Montana tax policy to reflect changes in our state’s economy and mitigate regressive inequities among taxpayer income brackets and tax classifications.
- Preferential tax treatment for distinct special interests or corporations that undermines fair and equitable taxation and diminishes funding for necessary public services.
- Efforts to bust the Constitutional Coal Tax Trust or to lower that tax.
- A statewide general sales tax.
What you can do to support these great values: Become an active participant in your party. Volunteer at yellowstonedemocrats.org. Every two years, all Montana Democrats are invited to participate in defining what they and their party stand for. These ideas begin in each county and are further refined at a statewide meeting of elected delegates where debate is welcomed and encouraged. Any Democrat can attend the State Platform Convention and advocate for a particular idea.
The next Yellowstone County Platform Convention will be in May, 2022. The State Platform Convention will be held in the summer of 2022. As an individual Democrat, you have the power to define what your party believes and supports through participation, legislation and governance. Please be a truth seeker, ignore unsubstantiated rumors and help your fellow citizens get the real information about your party. Share our platform with your friends and neighbors. We are many who have become one in this great experiment in democracy.