By Rep. Kate Webb
We face many challenges this year. The roll out of the Affordable Care Act, both nationally and at the state level, has been fraught with problems. We wonder why there is a call for a property tax increase to cover education in the face of declining enrollment and confusing measures on how well our children are doing. We look at the widening gap in personal wealth and wonder if we will be able to hold onto a healthy middle class, so essential to a thriving American economy and way of life.
These thoughts, and many others, keep me awake at night. As the 2014 session opens, I continue to ask how we can engage in civil discourse over issues about which we are so passionate but tend to become so polarized.
While many of us go into lawmaking believing we can make a significant impact on policy, we soon discover that small shifts are a more likely result. Every change we make affects someone, and even when it is clear that the change is in the public good, someone is going to suffer as a result. Lake Champlain is a prime example. Everybody wants a clean lake, but this requires very expensive changes in development and farming practices; needs taxpayer support drawn from other priorities; and tramps on property rights we hold so close to our hearts as Americans. We want a thriving economy, but want businesses to clean up after themselves and this affects their bottom line. We want healthy schools and we want fairness, but fairness always means that the gain for one person or business comes at the expense of another when the resources are fixed.
The delicate balance in solving complex problems has always existed. What really changes is the manner in which we work together to solve these problems. The Lutheran scholar, Marty Martin, once observed that one of the real problems in modern life is that people who are good at being civil often lack strong convictions, while people with strong convictions often lack civility.
“We need to find a way of combining a civil outlook with ‘passionate intensity’ about our conviction,” says Richard Mouw in his book, “Uncommon Decency”. “The real challenge is to come up with convicted civility.” I believe this includes our willingness to keep a hard focus on the truth about a problem and steer away from half-truths and personal attack. I am happy to report that this has typically been the case for me when speaking with members from our community.
With the start of the second year of the biennium, it is clear that divisive topics will come into focus. I encourage you to keep in touch with me as your perspective continues to inform my decision-making as well as the concerns that I bring to legislative leaders.
Representative Joan Lenes and I will continue to write for the Shelburne News, alternating weeks while in session, and will be available for coffee and conversation Tuesday mornings, 7:30-8:30 am. This year, we will switch it up to allow for those traveling north as well as south. January, March, and May we will meet at Bruegger’s. February and April, we will be at Next Door Café. I am also available by appointment and can be contacted via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: 233-7798. Information will also be available on my website: www.katewebbvt.com.