Tuesday October 27, 2020

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Restoring Trust in Trying Times

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 27 May 2020 in Wisconsin

covid-19-protest-madisonSen. Smith writes about the role and responsibility of government. While facing this current public health, we must remind ourselves of all the good our government can do serving its people.


MADISON, WI - At times, there is a real disconnect between science and politics in our country. But, in the case of how we handle a pandemic, it can be dangerous.

For decades, we’ve been fed the philosophy that government can’t be trusted. Don’t get me wrong, too many politicians throughout history have brought that on by corrupt and often selfish behavior. Problems within government can become sensationalized and people begin to think that is the standard rather than the exception. It begins to impair our judgement of government and the important role it has in our lives. For every problem reported on by the media there are scores of examples how innovative solutions are found.

wi-senate-swearing-inThe doubt we may have for irresponsible political leaders, initiates a pattern of distrust in government as a whole, causing skepticism of government officials who possess the expertise to make decisions in the public interest. Dangerously, the distrust of government can spill over into the world of science, influencing opinions of public health. It’s clear this is happening today with just how easily a deadly virus has been twisted into a political football.

This pandemic has affected our lives at every level. It forced us to take another look at the role of government. We have a chance to reevaluate how the economy is driven, how education is provided, where we get healthcare and even how we socialize. With all that to consider we may also reshape how we are governed or, at least, how we perceive government.

Wisconsin has a rich history of being an innovator for solving government’s biggest issues. In 1911, Wisconsin passed the first Worker’s Compensation Program. During the Great Depression, Wisconsin created the first Unemployment Insurance program in 1932 and our nation’s Social Security system in 1934.

When people lost their savings, their homes and their futures, Wisconsin stepped up as an innovator during our nation’s most difficult times. The federal government, under Franklin D. Roosevelt, started the New Deal to put people to work, resulting in an amazing network of roads, parks and connectivity for many who needed it. New agencies and programs were established out of necessity to support farmers, young workers and families.

This period saw the consolidation of one-room schoolhouses, which resulted in a revolution of educated and successful entrepreneurs and scientists elevating America to become the envy of all the world. The government supported these aspirations by returning the investment Americans contributed. School districts and elected school boards of our peers were formed to govern and make decisions that we trusted would be in the best interest of our children.

Our government also increased healthcare accessibility and affordability through the Affordable Care Act and BadgerCare Program. Veterans are covered through the Veterans Administration as a benefit for their service. Medicare was adopted for seniors, which we pay into throughout our lives so we can retire with less worry. Again, those programs are what we do for each other and for the benefit of society – it’s what we expect from government because we invest in it.

jeff-smithSome of us don’t think twice about these programs until we need them. This current crisis has forced many to file for unemployment insurance or apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for the first time in their lives. While we each strive to support ourselves and our families, we are grateful to have these government programs during emergencies.

That’s why, when so many have found they need assistance, government may be rediscovered as a partner to wade through this uneasy time.

Now is the time to rethink the role of government, not simply as an entity working against us, held in disdain by so many, but a representative body contributing to society. At times, I understand some of us haven’t felt the government and politicians lived up to their expectations. The responsibilities of our government must reflect the priorities of the people. To achieve this, we must restore trust and remind ourselves all the good our government can do serving its people.

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