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Mirror Mirror

by Winn Maddrey

March 7,2008

Imagine that each of us has inherited an extra day in 2008. I would like to encourage each of you to take a day – an entire day if possible – to reflect. All year, we have been and will continue to hear proposed solutions for our problems by people who want to and believe that they can help. If only we help them by casting a ballot in their favor. These aspirants are partially right. They may want to help, they may think they can help. In my opinion, broad government imposed initiatives rarely achieve their goal and rarely are successful.

Last week, while sitting in a Columbus, Ohio airport restaurant/bar, we were seated next to a twenty-one year old nurse, a single mother of a four-year-old. She talked about how the systems – mostly governmental – fail her. She talked about how she is lucky to have her brothers and extended family to help raise her little boy, the joy of her life, she said. When she finished her next drink, she continued to portray herself as downtrodden and left behind by government and society because they were not doing more for her. 

Then, she excused herself to go to the restroom. She never returned and in the process, walked out on the check and stiffed the mid-thirties bartender, a single mother herself.

I thought, at first, how insensitive and plain rude this act was. I then too began to realize that our government has created and built systems that allow some to either hold out hope that there is a program out there that will take care of their issue(s), that a program is coming to your neighborhood soon and/or that with a big election year and new leadership that everything will change and be better. 

And I began to reflect, I realized that I hear aspects and tones of her voice in so many places. And people who want the government to come to the rescue. Some see the power of the purse as so strong that they are willing to hold out hope. 

In my experience in the government and in the private sector, I can safely say that most will be disappointed by federal and usually state efforts. We have simply grown too large, too spread out to all share the same basket of interests so that Washington or Raleigh can successfully deliver on that need. Local impact is where the success starts. Let me share an example. 

After the 2000 Florida voting debacle, the federal government decided to (a) legislate, (b) mandate and (c) regulate how elections are conducted in a much more formal sense than had been previously done. The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) passed and became law. Then the US Congress allocated more than $3 BILLION dollars for states to use to implement HAVA, ranging from new software, new systems and as most of us have seen, electronic voting equipment. 

After visiting twenty percent of the states, seeing small, medium and large jurisdictions implement this program, I am shocked at the patchwork, inconsistent system that exists, even with the federal guidelines. And, in North Carolina, we are better than the majority. It amazes me to see that the bureaucracy that is so inherent in everything that emanates from Washington, DC is filled with waste and inefficiencies. In effect, the federal government took a growing, immature business (electronic voting) and made it mature overnight. Of course, some companies made a ton of money in the process, leaving many voters disenchanted and ironically, undermining democracy. 

So from a very basic right, a right that means our government exists to serve we the people, the federal government has taken on something complicated and screwed it up even more. No doubt all were well intentioned and some progress was made, but there are as many if not more issues now out there. Not many lessons have been learned at the expense of taxpayers. 

I plan to spend my day this year reflecting upon what I can do, not holding out for a new, federal program. And then seeing how I can do my part.

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