Greyson Oswalt-Smith

Greyson Oswalt-Smith is a local columnist for the Rome News-Tribune.

A democracy is a style of government that is seen most preferable in modern times. Georgia is a democracy in its own right, but I put forth that we as a state are behind. We are less democratic than other states in the union. There are two basic types of modern democracy, direct democracy and republican or representative democracy. It is imperative to deliver a small explanation for each of these in order to further evaluate.

A true direct democracy is one form of government wherein the people have total control. Legislation is voted on via referendum, all leaders, if there are any, are voted on by popular vote, justice is delivered in the court of public opinion, and the majority rules. Popular opinion wins all arguments, minorities are excluded and discriminated against, and there is a tyranny of the majority. This freedom that quickly turns to tyranny is not conducive to the American ideal nor liberty and equality. As you may have already noticed, this is not the type of government the United States and Georgia currently have, nor the one I wish to propose.

In a republican democracy, or a representative democracy, the people have indirect control of government rather than direct control. People are elected to represent a constituency, minorities are generally protected, and there are people elected and appointed making decisions rather than the entire population. The cool sense of a community is brought about through institutions created by a constitution. The specifics are left up to the political process. This is the government that the United States has, and one I wish to improve in Georgia.

I have addressed this topic several times before, and I will do so again. The Georgia legislature, the General Assembly, is a semi-professional legislature. This means that the legislator works part-time debating, creating and voting on bills to go before the Governor. The legislator, therefore, is unemployed or employed elsewhere full-time for their primary income. This in itself creates conflicts of interest and shows a lack of dedication, among other things. In the spirit of staying on topic without ranting, I will show how this semi-professional legislature is curbing democracy by limiting civil engagement through the prevention of the average individual to run for a legislature seat.

Civic engagement is the cornerstone of every democracy. Voting, participating in a jury and running for office are primary ways to be involved in democracy. Georgia limits the vast majority of her residents from running for office in the General Assembly, serving the State of Georgia, and exercising civic virtue by having a semi-professional legislature under the pretext of saving money. The legislative session in Georgia begins in January and ends in the end of April. This is a third of the year in which legislators are expected to debate, create and vote on the laws of the state. The other two thirds of the year, these legislators are citizens who have jobs in the private sector. I propose to you a question. Would your job accept, without repercussions or contempt, your employment being stayed for a third of the year every year? I know the answer is no.

Ladies and gentlemen, these legislators are largely business owners, lawyers and unemployed due to their own wealth. Are these men and women more capable of governing the residents of the State of Georgia than the everyday working man? Why should these men and women be the only ones allowed to run? Because they are rich, are self-employed, own their own business, etc.? No, they are not more qualified. There are an abundance of Georgians who have the education, fortitude and passion for public service in the legislature, I am one of those Georgians. However, our chances and opportunities are severely limited. Since we are employed by an employer, unlike the current legislators, we are unable to serve in such a capacity. We would have to give up our income, job, insurance and benefits to receive a meager wage, work only a third of the year, and worry about how to get insurance and other benefits the other eight months of the year. This is not fair.

The legislators, who have the authority to begin amending the Georgian Constitution, will be obstinate and intransigent to these arguments. This is due to the fact that they will do what they need to stay in their seat in the Assembly. If the legislature becomes a professional one, legislators would have to resign to keep their business, firm or agency alive. Furthermore, once the barrier of the semi-professional legislature has been overcome and the common individual begins running for office, legislators will have competition that they may not be able to compete with. The Assembly is not likely to change unless there is a widespread awareness to the inappropriate nature of the semi-professional legislature. It decreases civic engagement, disengages the public, and demotes democratic principles. It will take a compelling number of voices to encourage our legislature to adopt this idea and begin amending the Constitution of Georgia.

For those ambitious men and women, Georgia blocks the middle and lower classes opportunity to serve in the legislature. No employer is willing to let their employee serve in the legislature for four months, and then return to work only for eight months out of the year. Only those who are able to own their own business, sales agency, law firm, etc., are capable of serving the interests of the people. This in turn turns into these legislators serving not the interests of the people, but their own career fields and themselves. Their interests are ultimately in what they do full-time, their private enterprises.

Greyson Oswalt-Smith is a political science major at Kennesaw State University who plans on going to law school. He enjoys being politically involved locally, and serves on the Sara Hightower Regional Library System Board of Trustees. He may be reached at oswalt0426@gmail.com.