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Do Our Leaders Need a Time Out?

When children’s behavior crosses the line from playful to rambunctious or even dangerous, parents place them in Time Outs. The action is designed to end – at least temporarily – the offending behavior. It also gives children time to ponder the repercussions of their actions.

After following the back-and-forth that took place this week between the Governor and a State Legislator, we now can make a good case for placing some of New Jersey’s leaders in Time Outs. Although healthy debates are an essential component of democracy, the exchanges we witnessed this week simply are unacceptable.

The exchanges concerned the death of a 21-year old man named Eric Thomas, the victim of multiple gunshot wounds suffered during a dispute after a house party in Jersey City. His death is a tragedy; it should not be used by anyone to score political points.

This is not to say that we should not ask questions and seek answers about the factors that led to Thomas’ death. The fact that he allegedly was shot by a man who was released from prison early under provisions of a state program raises legitimate questions about that program. Those questions should be explored and debated in a constructive manner in order to determine whether the program needs to be altered, eliminated, or kept as is.

Unfortunately, the dialogue that ensued in the aftermath of the shooting has been anything but constructive.

It was Governor Christie who started the discussion by calling for the elimination of the early release program. Nothing wrong here. He’s the Governor; he makes it clear what he wants done. But he didn’t stop there.

Christie then said the early release program was responsible for Thomas’ death. He also placed blame on Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, who sponsored the law that created the program. “It is tragic that because of Assemblywoman Watson Coleman’s philosophy on crime, that we now have one person who has lost his life,” Christie told reporters at a news conference.

After learning of the Governor’s comments, Watson Coleman fired back.

“Governor Christie attempting to blame me for Mr. Thomas’ death is as ludicrous as me blaming the Governor for the death of every woman who couldn’t gain access to critical health care because the Governor eliminated women’s health funding,” she said in a statement. “Or as preposterous as me blaming the governor for deaths as the result of the massive police and firefighter layoffs resulting from his policies.”

The Assemblywoman’s point is well-taken. It is not fair to hold a lawmaker personally responsible for every action that results from a law he or she sponsored. On the other hand, politicians are quick to take credit when the laws they sponsor yield positive results. What type of public scenario would we have seen if the man accused of killing Thomas had gone on to great success after getting out of prison early as part of the state’s early release program? Consider the old English proverb: “Success has many fathers; failure is an orphan.”

As troubling as the discourse surrounding this incident has been, it sadly is not an isolated occurrence. The exchanges between political opponents – at all levels of government – have reached new lows. Sometimes Republicans emerge as the winners; other times, it is the Democrats. But regardless of who wins, the losers always are the citizens who expect – and deserve – better from their elected officials.

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