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Monday, Jan 07 2013 11:00 PM

JACQUIE SULLIVAN: Is the price of democracy too expensive?

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    Jacquie Sullivan

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Do we want government by elected officials, voted into office by "We the people"? Or are we OK to be governed by people the government has chosen for us?

I seem to remember the first "tea party," where our forefathers stated clearly the point central to the American revolt against England and the subsequent War of Independence: "No taxation without representation." Americans wanted to have our own representatives at government council, not governors appointed by the crown.

This issue is important to look at now because there is, unfortunately, a vacancy on the Bakersfield City Council in Ward 1. I say unfortunately because the person elected to the position at the regular election chose to abandon the responsibility he asked for and accepted, announcing less than a year into his four-year term that he would prefer a higher office. Rudy Salas achieved his wish and moved on, leaving his constituents without representation -- thus, making a mockery of his commitment made to the voters.

And now the city, by action of the remaining six council members, is left to deal with how to fill the position. Council members can appoint someone to the seat or they can call a special election to let the voters of the ward select their own representative. That second option would cost the city well over $100,000, which could otherwise be used for public safety or an additional road repair.

The choice then is whether to save the taxpayers money or to honor the democratic process. Which is more important? One way to judge is to consider how many people throughout history have fought and died for the ultimate God-given privilege of self-determination, democracy and freedom.

By holding a special election, the citizens and voters of Ward 1 would be participating in the promise of America by taking part in what is rightfully theirs; voters have the right to vote for an individual that they see fit to represent them. Furthermore, holding this nonpartisan special election would provide the opportunity for greater competition among ideas, policy discussion and vision of our city's direction. Such is the essence of the great American experiment in self-government that has given the world a lamp held high, lighting the way to freedom and prosperity, where rights are given by God, not by man, and therefore should not be taken away.

The cost may seem large, especially in a nonelection year, but one cannot put a dollar value on democracy! To the nearly 5,000 residents of Ward 1 who voted in the 2010 general election, the right to vote is not something to be taken lightly. The citizens should be confident that their voices will be heard -- not to have the current council members speak for them. The cost of the election should, in my view, rightly be paid for, not by another hit on the taxpayers, but by Salas, the person who, by bailing out on his "contract" with the voters of Ward 1, triggered this problem and public expense.

If there is an election, candidate nominations would begin next month and end in March, with an anticipated election day of June 4. I'm convinced there is a right way to handle both the democracy issue and the cost of this dilemma.

Rudy, do the right thing and step up to the plate voluntarily.

Jacquie Sullivan is a Bakersfield city councilwoman, representing Ward 6.

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