PSC Commissioner Tim Echols: The System is Not Broken

Tim Echols

Monday, January 13th, 2020

Every year about this time 180 state representatives and 56 state senators come together for 40 days to decide how “life” will work in this state we call Georgia. What started way back in 1733 by a visionary named James Oglethorpe who sought to create a colony for hard-working Brits, Georgia now is home to over 10 million descendants of Oglethorpe and those his colony had enslaved.  Here is why you should rest easy knowing that the system works.

First, as far as I can tell, politics is downstream from culture.  What I mean by that is elected officials really are more reactive than proactive.  Those elected legislators, constitutional officers like myself, members of Congress and ultimately the highest offices in the land—we serve at the pleasure of others.  Those people exert influence—at the ballot box, on social media, by giving us campaign contributions, reacting to media stories, buttonholing us at church—even venting at their front door as we campaign.  These interactions shape our thinking and positions as elected officials.  That is why I encourage young people and others to develop meaningful ways to communicate with elected officials at every level.  Recurring messages and themes showing real harm or benefit can be persuasive.  And the way you deliver the message is important

Second, elected officials evolve—in their thinking, their influence, their ability to affect change.  No, maybe not on deeply held beliefs.  But persuasion on many matters can be incremental and take time.  It took nine years for me to see that solar net metering in Georgia should be given a chance. And I study this stuff every day. Legislators are part-time officials. Their scope of authority covers the gambit—from financial issues to social concerns to business policy. They have a day-job somewhere, and are often serving at great inconvenience to their livelihood and family.  They leave home Sunday night and return on Friday—sleeping in a hotel and eating rubber chicken at some reception.  All for $17,000 per year.  Those who seek to influence them should be patient and kind.

Finally, the idiom that “to the victor go the spoils” is true.  The reigning political majority sets the rules, controls the agenda and experiences all the benefits of being in charge.  There is nothing immoral about that.  In the end, that upstream voting public actually decided who they were going to trust with that job.  Being the majority is a “trust” and despite all the cynicism, hyper-partisanship, and snarky posts you see, our governmental system in Georgia works.  Sure, it is not perfect and you occasionally have the bad egg.  But voters have the opportunity every two years to toss out who they want and select someone they perceive as better.  The beginning of a new decade is especially significant because with it comes a federally mandated census and the reshuffling of all the political lines—for almost every official—including me.  This year we have a presidential election, and two US Senate races on the ballot in Georgia.  There has never been a more important time for the public to be engaged.

Our state seal has three banners on it—Wisdom, Justice and Moderation.  That is still good advice after all these years.