Last September, the Holly community spearheaded the initiative of Oakland County judge Michael Warren and his daughter Leah in celebrating our nation’s political and cultural heritage through Patriot Week and the Patriot Week Festival. The week-long celebration focused on our founding fathers and significant leaders, the values and concepts that make America great, and worked to promote greater civic awareness of our heritage.
Obviously, George Washington and his leadership of the Continental Army, the Constitutional Convention and the first eight years of our nation is a major figure in that heritage. While Washington wasn’t the philosopher and writer to the magnitude of many of his compatriots like James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, he contributed to one of the most important, and most disregarded, treatises on the new nation: his Farewell Address.
Washington intended to retire after his first term in 1792 and with the help of Madison began drafting a farewell essay, but the strife between the Federalists and the Republicans was growing and both Alexander Hamilton and Jefferson convinced him to provide his leadership for another term. Unconvinced a second time, he and Hamilton completed the draft of the farewell address (demonstrating the rarest of “bipartisan” efforts not seen since), which was published in September of 1796.
In his address, he praised the progress of the new nation, but also admonished its citizens and leaders of two great dangers, among other topics. Washington saw the conflict that had embroiled Europe for more than 500 years, and which was reaching another fever point. He warned America that positive foreign relations were necessary, but to remain neutral and not take sides lest the new nation be pulled into the conflicts with disastrous results, or allow unhealthy meddling in our own affairs.
His other key admonition was on the home front, warning of the dangers of factionalism and sectionalism, namely north vs. south and Federalists vs. Republicans. Specifically, he warned of the dangers of political parties and the negative influence they can exert. They distract from promoting the common good, and serve more to divide than they do provide checks and balances on the government.
Obviously, his words weren’t heeded, as our nation has been partisan ever since and hyper-partisan in recent years. And while partisan politics don’t typically leech down to the local level in communities like Holly, a new movement in the 2012 election cycle is pushing our community down a parallel road.
Recent issues have caused a great deal of public stir and controversy with the Holly Township Board of Trustees, led by Holly’s county commissioner Robert Hoffman and some of his supporters. One result of this has been the emergence of a group of candidates for Holly Township office who are striving to unseat the sitting officials, and to that end are campaigning and fundraising as a group—Progress for Holly Township is their nascent Facebook page.
No public official should ever run for reelection unopposed, no matter how quality of a job they may be doing. There is always room for questioning and criticism, and our democracy depends on the opportunity for choice in our elections. In as much, these candidates who are challenging the incumbents should be admired for their willingness to serve and likewise attended to for their perspectives and potential approaches to governance.
However, the fact that these challengers (with one incumbent, Trustee Janet Leslie) have banded together under a common banner against the seated incumbents (perceived as a group themselves) with the aim of replacing the board en masse and with Mr. Hoffman, a Highland Township resident, as the de facto machine boss, is particularly troubling for the state of our local affairs.
This, in essence, is a political party, the very source of division and discord that President Washington warned about at a national level. And introducing a touch of irony, Mr. Hoffman, Ms. Leslie, and Township Supervisor candidate George Kullis are some of the most ardent supporters of Patriot Week and the writings, values and principles the celebration stands for. Even more notable in its irony is Mr. Kullis’s admiration for President Washington, evidenced by the exquisite collection of Washington memorabilia he owns and his keen interest in Holly’s Washington Club.
When we go down the road of local political parties, it creates an “us vs. them” atmosphere, with the losing group waiting in the tall grass for the next election, or lobbing wrenches into the gears of progress for no other purpose than to better position themselves. Paraphrasing Washington, the power of groups may enable more accomplishment, but that power can also be used to halt progress just the same, dividing instead of unifying. These fights distract our officials, and the public, from opportunities and pressing issues at hand, just as we’ve seen over the past several months—minutiae twisted and spun into sticky webs, with the venomous spider of regression and inertia waiting on the edges.
America will never get off the road of national partisan politics, but that doesn’t mean it has to creep down to our communities. Local officials, whether they run for partisan or non-partisan office, should all be on the same page—that of serving our citizens and promoting the common good in the ways they best see fit, not what some minority cabal agrees to in a smoky back room. Our local leaders should be chosen based on whose ideas are most feasible, who can best work or best agree (especially with others of differing viewpoints), person by person and race by race, and not simply what group one is affiliated with or who can raise the most campaign money.
If the parting words and thoughts of President Washington are heeded, then the winning candidates in our elections will be chosen on their qualifications and our confidence in their abilities, and in doing so, Holly will be the living embodiment of the values Patriot Week espouses. There’s no better argument for the importance of Patriot Week than that.