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By Richard Viczorek
The Fourth of July has just passed and I hope everyone was able to spend some time with friends and family, enjoy the holiday, and feel tremendous pride in being an American. I also hope that everyone thought a little bit about what we were actually celebrating on the Fourth: the enactment of the Declaration of Independence and the birth of our nation.
One thing that always jumps out at me when I read the Declaration of Independence is that our Founders had a lot of specific complaints about the British king and even the British people. But it wasn’t an expression of wanting to get rid of the English king and replacing him with an American one. Rather, the Declaration of Independence was a document that referred to natural and individual rights and laid the groundwork for a nation where it would be the people who ruled themselves. This form of government has led to the most free and most prosperous nation the world has ever known, and we have wisely employed it at the federal, state and local levels.
Now that I am a participant in government at the local level thinking about the Fourth of July, I have a couple of thoughts I would like to share. The first is that during my time as a city councilman, I have met many people who do not know who their elected officials are. I want to emphasize here that I think this is a good thing. Why? Because one of the enumerated natural rights in the Declaration is the Pursuit of Happiness. This means that these people are busy pursuing their happiness and in large part finding it because of the freedoms that they enjoy. They choose to spend their time following their dreams and interests rather than following politics. To me, this is how it looks when people are exercising those rights enumerated in the Declaration. Government was not meant to play the central role in our lives.
On the flip side, if one’s passion and interests are in politics, we as Americans have every right to involve ourselves there. And while I have met many people who do not follow politics, I also have met many people who do. The Declaration envisioned people governing themselves rather than a permanent ruling class of nobles doing it for us. Sometimes in practice this means a packed chamber during a city council meeting with occasional hoots and scoffs that is a representation of the vision our Founders had for this country. The people who take the time to attend such meetings are vigilant in reminding our elected officials that government derives its power from the consent of the governed, and I thank them for it.
I believe the number of people who participate in our local government this way encourages new leaders to emerge and helps us avoid the pitfalls of a permanent ruling class. An expression of these ideals from the Declaration was immediately shown by George Washington who refused to become an American king and imposed term limits on himself of two, four-year terms as President. I think Dana Point has been wise to follow President Washington’s example by also setting term limits for city councilmembers at two, four-year terms. While I am thinking about local governance of the city council and the Declaration of Independence, let me add one last thought.
Our city council is made up of five hard-working and dedicated individuals who desire to serve our community and earnestly do what each believes is best for Dana Point. This quite often leads to five different points of view on various topics and sincere debate before decisions are made and actions are taken. I understand that to some, a lack of unanimity implies dysfunction. However, I believe this type of interaction is healthy and shows the strength of our democracy as it has always functioned. (For example, the motion for independence from Britain was debated by the Continental Congress between those in favor of independence and those still hoping for reconciliation with Britain before eventually being adopted.) It makes me proud to think that, no matter our differences, we are all bound together by the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence. I sincerely thank you for the opportunity to serve in our local government and be a small part of this great American Experiment that officially started back on July 4, 1776.