On Governing Contrary to Popular Opinion


Last night was a particularly bloody night for me as I sat on the Tolland Town Council and faced some rather harsh criticism from those in attendance. There were lots of things said which bothered me, but the one line of questioning I faced from one member of the “crowd” (whereby I mean, “six to eight members of the public in attendance”) that bothered me the most was one in which I was asked, “If 95% of the town agreed on something, and you were against it, would you vote against it?”

I’ll admit, I didn’t do a good job of answering the question last night, as I tend to get flustered when faced with a direct line of questioning, especially in a hostile environment. And I veered off on a tangent for a while about how we have a representative democracy, but that doesn’t really answer the question. I managed to get a, “Yes, I would” out, and that’s the short answer. Though I was sure of that answer, I wasn’t sure of exactly why that was my answer. I eventually solidified my position on the matter, but by then it was well after midnight and the Council meeting had ended over three hours prior. Such are my sleepless nights after Council meetings. (And yet I’ve volunteered for this job. Twice.)

So what did I arrive at? I finally arrived at the conviction that:

(a) I would neither ignore nor be ignorant of popular opinion, meaning that I could not, in good conscience, put my blinders on and plow down my row without acknowledging and understanding the popular opinion, and without understanding where my opinion and popular opinion differed and why my opinion still held sway over popular opinion.

(b) I would still vote contrary to popular opinion if I believed, after weighing my opinion, popular opinion, and the relevant facts, that the popular opinion was not in the best interests of Tolland. At the end of the vote, it’s the best interest of Tolland that I have at heart, and I will do my utmost to protect that interest, even if it means voting contrary to popular opinion.

I was absolutely taken aback that the expectation was that I would simply cave and say, “No, I’d just vote however popular opinion tells me to vote.” That is not—nor has it ever been—how this country, this state, or this town have been governed, for better or for worse. People who favor a direct democracy will tell you that we’ve been doing it wrong (“for worse”), but the job I volunteered for and was elected for is that of a representative democracy, a democracy where I represent those who elected me. Does that mean I ignore facts in favor of popular opinion just so I “represent?” Absolutely not. It would be as irresponsible of me to govern solely by popular opinion as it would be for me to govern solely based on everything but public opinion. Instead, I believe that I am called upon to weigh my opinion, public opinion, and everything else in making my decisions, and that is what I will continue to do.

For those of you (or the one of you, anyway) who find this position troubling, I encourage you to see the benefits of having someone in an elected position who will weigh the opinion of the 5%, the opinion of the 95%, and the facts of the matter and make a decision based on all available input, and not just on the input you agree with. One day you may find yourself in the 5% and wish that all governance were conducted in such a balanced fashion. And if that day comes and I’m around, know that I will be glad to hear your minority opinion right alongside the majority opinion, and we’ll talk through the matter, and I’ll make the best decision I can, whether the 95% agree with it or not.

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