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Champion Democracy Here At Home


October 28, 2007

Do it for Aung San Suu Kyi and Benazir Bhutto. Vote in your local election, that is, and remember your good fortune whether your candidates win or lose.

Suu Kyi is the 62-year-old Burmese leader who's spent 12 of the past 18 years under house arrest as the guest of her nation's military dictators. She made the mistake in 1990 of leading her party to a smashing victory in a rare election in Burma. A year later, she won the Nobel Peace Prize. Her sons accepted it for her in Norway because Suu Kyi isn't allowed out of the house or the country. There aren't any free elections in Burma anymore.

Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan, ended eight years in exile this month and was nearly blown to bits as her motorcade proceeded through throngs of cheering supporters; hundreds of them were killed in the explosion. Bhutto had been warned that assassins were dogging her, but she's determined to restore democracy to Pakistan by defeating religious extremists.

Bhutto's father, who had served as president and then prime minister of Pakistan, was executed in 1979 after a show trial. His daughter spent a few years under house arrest after his death. Opponents assassinated Suu Kyi's father in 1947, just after successfully negotiating the end of British colonial rule. These women know the cost of securing liberty for a nation. They just want the right to vote.

Their fight starts with the essential task of holding free, fair and regular elections. Freedom under the rule of law will not endure without elections.

On Nov. 6, 156 Connecticut towns and cities will hold local elections. Most of the thousands of candidates running will serve in offices that require a lot of time and no compensation. Some aspire to higher office or the accumulation of power and influence. Many, however, simply want to make their town a better place.

A lot of candidates schlepped from door to door for months. They've endured rude residents and menacing dogs. They've been away from home more than usual (which may be a reason to run, but that's for another column) and imposed on friends for help. Some were brave enough to make phone calls to voters.

In towns with competitive races, novice candidates probably got a snootful of political brawling and found they liked it more than they expected. No one, however, has been bombed, hanged or placed under house arrest.

Local governments in Connecticut enjoy a lot of authority. The power to zone, for example, is the power to chart a town's future for good or ill. How important public schools are to a town will influence for decades the lives of the students who have no choice but to attend them. Some see schools as a social welfare agency, taking on the role usually reserved for parents. Others want teachers to concentrate on academics. Elections set the course.

A few towns, such as Willington and East Hampton, feature intense competition among three parties. This usually provides entertainment as the Republicans and Democrats work in public or private to defeat the interlopers on their turf.

So vote. People who wield power in your name need to know what the public thinks. The lines won't be long because the new voting machines, tested in 25 towns last year, are easy to use and accommodate a lot of voters at once. Ellington has 16 charter revision questions, so it may take a little longer there.

Elections restore the balance of power without tanks and bloodshed. No winning or losing candidate in Connecticut worries about a knock on the door in the middle of the night.

In Zimbabwe, the government strangled freedom and the nation starves. In Cuba, librarians rot in Fidel Castro's prisons for the simple act of distributing books. The promise of Russia as a democratic nation fades as the list of murdered journalists grows.

Be glad that eager candidate you see standing at least 75 feet from your polling place has decided to run, even if you think he's a bum. You're both luckier than you probably know.

Kevin Rennie is a lawyer and a former Republican state lawmaker.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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