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Born Free USA Blog

Born Free USA Blog

Lawmakers above the Law

Published 08/08/08
By Barbara Schmitz, Senior Program Associate

I’m always intrigued by the headlines blaring out the latest “bad act” perpetrated by an elected official. After many years of advocating for stronger laws for animals, I remain convinced that most public officials care about the needs of their constituents and do their best to advance the public good.

So I don’t delight in the public excoriation of anyone — even a public official who lost sight of his/her duty and betrayed the citizens whom he/she was elected to serve. However, I also am fully committed to the ideal that every one of us — including elected officials — must take responsibility for our actions and the consequences flowing from those acts.

A pattern has emerged, at least in my mind. Once the details unfold, I usually conclude that the public officials who went astray did so for one basic reason ... they began to believe that they were above the law. I’m sure it can be a seductive situation for someone who’s taken on the task of making the law, and the creep toward feeling all-knowing and accountable to no one probably is slow and subtle.

Ted Stevens, the long-serving Senator from Alaska, has been indicted for corruption, accused of reaping hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits that he did not disclose to the public.

Interestingly, Senator Stevens has been a vocal, obstreperous voice for drilling oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In spite of the remarkable opposition to the drilling — a majority of Americans are opposed to the drilling, with 44% strongly opposed — Senator Stevens has pressed for oil drilling in the Refuge for years now. In 2005, he even hijacked the Senate right before Christmas to try to force a vote for drilling in the Refuge.

It’s possible that Senator Stevens’ indictment will trigger calls for term limits for Congressmen and Senators. I think that term limits would be a mistake (see “Politics is too serious to be left to the politicians”).

But I have breathed a sigh of relief at Senator Stevens’ indictment. Perhaps now we are a bit less likely to have drilling in the Refuge crammed down our throats. Like most Americans, I believe that there are places that should be off-limits to oil drilling — and the Arctic Wildlife Refuge is one of them. Our elected officials have a moral responsibility to protect the Refuge, and the birds and wildlife that live there.

Let’s hold them to that.

Blogging off,

Barbara

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