GOVERNMENT

A return to common-sense governing

 
Oxford / MCT

pbdockery@gmail.com

Sometimes you just don’t know how things you write about are going to be perceived or what might occur as a consequence. After my column on the farce of regulatory reform hit Florida papers, an interesting series of events occurred.

First I received a book in the mail titled The Rule of Nobody by Philip K. Howard. The book jacket displayed complementary reviews by several well-known people, including Jon Stewart and Fareed Zakaria. That spiked my interest, so I Googled Mr. Howard and learned he was the author of the best-selling book, The Death of Common Sense.

His basic premise in both of these books is that our current system is broken and we need a new idea of how to govern.

At once I felt that we were kindred spirits. I’ve often believed that all this rhetoric about less government and fewer regulations was just that — political rhetoric. Seldom was there a real effort to address old laws and regulations that are drowning us in bureaucratic red tape, expense and delay.

Imagine my delight when I received a phone call from Howard himself to discuss our mutual interest in government reform. What a great opportunity to pick the brain of a well-respected lawyer, author, lecturer and government reformer.

In 2002, Howard formed Common Good, which advocates reforms to restore reliability to law and to rebuild authority structures needed to make common-sense choices.

It’s important to note that neither of us is anti-government. We both believe in the rule of law and the need for workable laws and regulations. But we also share a belief that rules were never meant to replace common-sense, educated decision-making. No two situations are exactly alike, and government officials need to be given the authority to meet the intent or goal of the law with some flexibility and innovation.

Howard believes that law is supposed to be a framework for humans to make choices, not the replacement for free choice.

During our conversation, we took turns highlighting example after example of the failure of government. Employees, fearful of not complying with every regulation, pass decisions on to someone else who does the same. The problem: No one feels empowered to actually make a decision based on the facts of the individual case unless it fits neatly into a predetermined rule, which is unlikely.

We agreed that protections are needed for our natural resources and our desire for better decision-making is not at the expense of that protection. We have the science, we put good knowledgeable experts in place, but we have them so worried about adherence to the rules that they abandon common sense and science-based decision-making for fear of legal challenges or worse, losing their jobs.

We also discussed education and how too many laws and regulations are choking teachers’ ability to be innovative and effective. We need to restore teachers’ authority to maintain order by decreasing bureaucracy in schools.

The current education debate has not adequately addressed the impact that overregulation has had on school culture and academic performance. In short, we are enthusiastic advocates of giving public schools the same freedom, and accountability, as charter schools.

Even when trying to stimulate our economy, President Obama ran into hurdle after hurdle within his own agencies in fast-tracking infrastructure projects, even when those projects were repairing existing infrastructure such as crumbling roads and bridges.

While there’s much more to it, there are two basic reforms that would get government back on the right track:

Radically simplify law. Laws must be understandable to be effective, and they should set public goals and general principles while leaving implementation to designated officials. Instead of laws telling people how to do their job, provide clear lines of accountability.

Sunset old laws. The accumulation of law precludes elected officials from making critical choices. Congress and state legislatures must periodically revisit old laws to determine their effectiveness and relevance.

It will take a sustained effort to both limit new laws and regulations while also reviewing, updating and removing old ones.

With all the talk of accountability, it seems we are reluctant to extend authority to government officials and to hold them accountable. While we lay the blame on them for shirking responsibility, the truth is we have not afforded them the opportunity to take responsibility. I believe they would wholeheartedly welcome it.

Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland.

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
DOCKERY

    FLORIDA POLITICS

    RPOF’s deliberate strategy to twist the truth

    As a lifelong Republican and a legislator for many years, I have seen a disturbing change in the Republican Party of Florida, its policies and its tone. I’m particularly troubled by the willingness, if not deliberate strategy, to twist the truth.

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">CIVIL RIGHTS:</span> Attorney General Eric Holder talks with Capt. Ron Johnson of the State Highway Patrol after arriving in Missouri on Wednesday to look into the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the ensuing protests.

    FERGUSON

    State leaders strangely silent on events in Ferguson

    The silence scares me.

  •  
FAIR

    MIAMI-DADE PUBLIC SCHOOLS

    Unequal access, unequal results at Miami-Dade County Schools

    The research is clear that teachers are the most significant in-school factor affecting student achievement. Yet, across the country, we see a persistent and shameful pattern, whereby low-income students of color are far more likely to have the least experienced and least effective teachers.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category