Feral Government

Occasionally the founder of Lakewood’s local newspaper makes reference to “feral” government, usually though not always in a local context.

It’s an informal concept, but I think the phrase says enough to be meaningful. Feral government is indifferent to‚Ķ anything, really, except the desires of the individuals with power. Feral government does whatever it can get away with, which often turns out to be a distressing amount.

The rules and systems which we might like to think prevent governments from going feral depend a lot on voluntary forbearance, on a willingness to respect “norms” and to play fair. The legal system and other formal systems of oversight and enforcement are generally reactionary and slow, at best.

Feral government is related to “Constitutional hardball,” i.e. going to extremes on what can be done within the letter of the law (as interpreted by the most favorable judges one can find and confirm). Feral governments practice such hardball, but may also dispense with rules entirely.

Republicans in Washington have basically been a feral government for the past two years. (Not just the Trump administration, but the McConnell-run Senate as well.) In recent days, Republicans in multiple state governments have gone alarmingly feral, with state legislators ramrodding through bills to e.g. kneecap incoming Democratic governors. Some have even admitted that their actions are nothing more than a refusal to accept election results which don’t leave all power in their party’s hands.

Right now the Republican Party is the major contributor to America’s feral government problem. Overall, there’s no party equivalence there.

But, responsible legitimate government is fundamentally a matter of principle. When a government goes feral it must be resisted and held accountable. I try to uphold that principle, even if the party involved is mine.

Three years ago today was a low point in a period of feral government, here in Lakewood; I opposed it at the time, I have opposed it since, and even as I become more active within the same party as many who were involved, I will continue to call it for what it was.

On December 7, 2015, the local officials in Lakewood dropped onto the community a deal to close and liquidate our publicly owned charity hospital. The proceeding had a number of disgraceful feral elements to it:

  • This was not what anyone campaigned on, during an election just one month prior. The hospital was a known issue in the community, and no one in Lakewood campaigned on “close and liquidate the hospital.” Many of those involved in this proceeding made a point of giving the opposite impression, in fact.
  • The process which followed was disgracefully rushed. Three hearings jammed into 15 days, amid the holidays, with an eventual December 21 vote on what the participants presented as a substantively new not-seen-before agreement.
  • So new, in fact, that the full text was not even available at the first of the three required hearings.
  • Members of the public nonetheless spoke at length during each hearing, and overwhelmingly against the agreement.
  • Despite which, members of council all voted for it, and had in effect committed themselves to it before anyone even had a chance to speak: on the afternoon of December 7, 2015, they all appeared at a restricted invitation-only news conference to pledge their votes before a single public hearing.
  • Logically, all of the meaningful deliberation must have taken place before any notification of the public, in closed meetings which those council members’ legal representation subsequently admitted were “a violation” of open meeting laws.
  • A majority of the seven council members had conflicts of interest yet voted on the agreement anyway.
  • Council also voted on this major legislation during a “lame-duck” session, preventing two newly elected representatives from participating. (A majority of the council’s members during these events had also arrived on council originally by appointment, rather than by a vote of the people.)

All of this is factual, documented history. All of it is ethically wrong; just as wrong as any of the power-grabs and other frauds which Republicans have been pursuing in this year’s “lame-duck” period.

It remains wrong today, even as at least some of the participants are presumably denouncing those Republican activities, yet have never apologized for or admitted any wrongdoing at all in their own abuse of many exactly identical circumstances.

The only accountability, so far, has come at the ballot box. There’s more work to be done in that regard, however. Already it has been a long campaign, and things have been lost which will never be restored, and any eventual ending will never really be perfect. I sympathize considerably with the years of work ahead for e.g. Wisconsin activists.

I see nothing else for it, though. Reforms for the future, hopefully, may do some good. But once a government goes feral, there’s often little to do about the damage done except replace those who broke with fairness and responsibility, one by one.

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