COMMENTARY: Delaware government must be made more accountable

When it comes to public integrity, the First State is not the first. It’s just about the last. According to a report last week by the Center for Public Integrity, we rank 48th in the country on transparency and accountability. [“Watchdog group: Delaware state government fails accountability test,” article, Nov. 10]

The CPI Report puts solid evidence behind complaints we hear regularly about Delaware’s political culture — that it’s difficult and expensive for citizens to access the information they need and to make their voices heard; that cronyism, nepotism, and patronage play too large a role in public decision-making; that conflicts of interest openly

Claire Snyder-Hall

Claire Snyder-Hall

abound; that partisanship too often dominates; and that we still suffer from the “pay to play” political culture described years ago in the Veasey Report.

Now for the good news. Bringing our problems into focus makes it easier for citizens to act. As former Chief Justice E. Norman Veasey recently put it, “our pernicious, soft-corruption, pay-to-play culture should not be thought of as the ‘Delaware Way,’ even if it has been a common practice. The real ‘Delaware Way’ means a civilized, bipartisan approach to finding solutions to the state’s business and political problems.”

Reform means making it easier for citizens to access public information and participate in the democratic process. It means ending backroom dealing and providing meaningful oversight of government agencies. It means lowering partisan decibel levels and searching for common ground.

Common Cause Delaware is a grass-roots organization committed to open, honest and accountable government that serves the public interest. We empower people to make their voices heard in the political process.

Our legislative program for 2016 focuses on completing the Veasey agenda to make Delaware politics more transparent and accountable. We need to require political donors to disclose their occupations and employers to help prevent fraud, ban gifts to lawmakers from lobbyists and donations from limited liability corporations, and require professional lobbyists to pay meaningful filing and oversight fees so that the Public Integrity Commission can provide the auditing of disclosure forms we sorely lack.

We also will work to reduce corrosive partisanship by supporting redistricting reform. Today, the majority party gets to set the boundaries of our electoral districts. The upshot is that rather than having voters choose our political leaders, as the Constitution intends, politicians end up choosing their voters. And even if the majority party chooses to draw lines fairly, that still leaves it up to the discretion of those in power to do the right thing. That might not always happen.

We have a system of government based on checks and balances. As James Madison famously put it, “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

You do not have to believe people in power are corrupt to support laws that safeguard public integrity and ethics. It’s time to return to first principles and strengthen democracy in the First State.

Editor’s note: Claire Snyder-Hall serves as program director for Common Cause Delaware. She has more than 20 years’ experience working on civic engagement. Before relocating to Rehoboth Beach, she was an associate professor of political theory at George Mason University. She holds a PhD in political science from Rutgers University and a BA cum laude from Smith College.

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