Democrats Seeking Election In Republican Districts Should Show A Plan For Transparency, Citizen Engagement

In 1994, Newt Gingrich got Republican candidates to agree to support a “Contract With America” — promising that, if elected, they would to take action on specific legislation. This Contract nationalized the election and is credited with the Republican’s big success that election — gaining 54 House and 9 U.S. Senate seats — flipping both chambers.

Democrats seeking election in Republican leaning districts cannot win by expecting Republican voters to embrace a Democratic Party agenda. I’d like to suggest that Democratic candidates in this region — seeking election to the Ohio House and Ohio Senate in Republican leaning districts — agree on a “Contract With Voters.” Rather than establishing legislative goals, this “Contract With Voters” would establish standards of representation. It would tell how, when elected, the candidate will be accountable to voters and how the candidate will engage and empower voters. This might include a plan for town halls, a plan for a “Citizen Forum,” a plan for engaging citizens, especially youth, in understanding the issues, the work and the challenges of the Assembly.

What is our biggest problem?

In 1994, Gingrich with the “Contract With America” convinced a lot of voters that the biggest problems in America were deficit spending, crime, lack of term limits, etc. In the contract, the Republicans offered specific legislation to deal with these problems.

Here in 2020, we have a lot of big problems, but I’m thinking there is a growing consensus that our biggest problem is the on-going destruction of our democracy. Not all Republican leaning voters would agree with this assessment, but I think many would agree. A key section of Republican leaning voters, I believe, would respond to an authentic leader who was honestly working to bring citizens together and to empower citizens — regardless of party affiliation.

Authentic leadership, I believe, is “servant leadership” — the term used by Mark Fogel, Democratic candidate for Senate District 06. But without a contract to spell out what this term means in practice, to promise “servant leadership” amounts to just more political speech.

Fogel made an excellent TEDx talk, The Culture of a Fighter Squadron, in 2018. In this talk he explains how leadership works in this exclusive fighter group. Successful leadership in this setting is committed to accountability, transparency, and empowerment. This leadership is focused on the group working together to safely and effectively achieve its missions.

So, what is the mission of an elected member of the Assembly?

Democrats should define the mission. The mission of a member of the Assembly is not to get reasonable gun laws; it’s not to help citizens get health care. The mission, as defined by the “Contract With Voters,” I’m thinking, should be to make our system of democracy work as it should. The Contract, then, would spell out how the elected member of the Assembly will act to empower citizens to be co-servants, co-leaders in saving our democracy. When our democracy works as it should, we will have reasonable gun laws, we will have a health care system that helps every citizen.

This “Contract With Voters,” then, would show a specific plan for transparency, accountability, citizen empowerment and citizen engagement.  Creating such a Contract — establishing standards for representation — and promoting this Contract as a contrast with the typical Republican behavior of members in the Assembly, I believe might make a difference in the election.

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