Hoeft: The rules are there— and those serving districts should be, too

Jim Hoeft [Courtesy]

Virginia Beach, from my lofty perch in Chesapeake, sometimes does act confounding. It is a simple principle – and profoundly and intrinsically American – that you live in the district you desire to represent. 

And you follow the rules as written.

Yet some of Virginia Beach’s local leaders seem to have had a difficult time grasping basic truths of American government. 

Consider Congress, for a moment. 

James Madison writes of the House of Representatives in Federalist No. 52:

“A representative of the United States…must, at the time of his election, be an inhabitant of the State he is to represent. … ” Madison continues that it is “essential to liberty that the government in general should have a common interest with the people, so it is particularly essential that the branch of it under consideration should have an immediate dependence on, and an intimate sympathy with, the people.”

While this is directly applicable to Congress, these ideas play a profound role in how we choose our delegates to the Virginia General Assembly and how the city of Virginia Beach uses its hybrid ward system to elect its members. In the end, all these districts have this point in common: there is a community of interest in need of representation.

Now, one will note that Madison only said that a representative should live in the state they are representing. As an example, in Chesapeake, all city council representatives are elected at-large. Chesapeake’s elected officials can also live anywhere in the city. While all Virginia Beach voters select each of their representatives, some of the people they elect represent specific geographic districts and must live within those boundaries.

If a constitution or charter, as a matter of preference, chooses to have at-large representation, that’s fine. Arguments can be made that a city doesn’t need a ward system due to its limited size. However, the rules are the rules in Virginia Beach, and this system of rules does have some strong arguments behind it.

The most obvious reason is that – ostensibly – a representative from a specific region of the city will understand first-hand the needs of that community and will act in its best interest.

We kind of understand this idea based on what Madison wrote and our intuition.

Consider work. 

Do you feel more connected and in touch with what is going on at work when you are present at the job site or when you telecommute?

Certainly, there’s a case that can be made for telecommuting, largely because of freedom and autonomy (sidebar – is that what we want from a representative or do we want accountability and responsiveness?), but a 2018 Harvard Business Review study found that being remote is actually very bad for morale, engagement, and long-term commitment:

“After interviewing over 2,000 employees and managers globally, our study discovered two-thirds of remote workers aren’t engaged and over a third never get any face-time with their team —  yet over 40 percent said it would help build deeper relationships.

“The study also found that remote workers are much less likely to stay at their company long-term.”

In other words, by not living in the community that an elected official has been chosen to represent, there’s a good chance that this representative will be naturally inclined to be dismissive of its concerns, if only for not being aware of that community’s concerns.

Now, there’s no guarantee that an elected representative who lives in the district will actually represent that district’s interest. But that’s why we have elections. Nor is there a guarantee that just because someone lives in that district he or she will provide the diversity of opinion necessary to formulate a good policy on the council for the city. Because people do have their biases.

But the odds are pretty good that a representative who abides by the rules and lives in their district will do the people’s work – if only for their own self-interest.

Bottom-line: Virginia Beach has well-publicized rules. Until those rules change, candidates should be committed to them, and voters should hold them accountable.

Hoeft, a retired Navy spokesperson, hosts The J.R. Hoeft Show, a weekly podcast available via jrhoeft.com. He lives in the Hickory area of Chesapeake.

© 2019 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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