From the Precipice of the Cliff

By Shami Dugal

I have always been afraid of heights. I get this funny feeling in the pit of my stomach when I peer down from great heights or stand on a transparent floor, the type they have in Vegas. I have the same feeling about this fiscal cliff that we are on. The combined weight of this nation is going to bring us all tumbling down off this cliff without a safety net.

But wait, I forget. Congress is going to be at the top peering down at us; sad because they will have no constituents left to vote for them in next elections. So like sports fans, are we going to forget in a couple of years and vote in the same people that took their 0.5% raise they voted for themselves and went about their new year’s parties?

It sure makes a lot of sense to come in on New Year’s Day and vote for a decrease in taxes because we are over the cliff with higher taxes on the eve of the New Year. We can only hope that they are not hung over and remember they need to look after the citizens. I am not sure why we would give them enough credit to do that because god only knows they have had several years to deal with these issues.

I, for one, would like to start a petition that we create a new government agency (wait, let me finish) of a Citizens Coalition whose job will be to review the record of elected officials and give them a grade at the end of their term. Just like in school, they will need to meet certain criteria:

GRADE                        CONSEQUENCES

Fail                         They get summarily booted out; they cannot stand for office again; they have to pay back 50% of the salary they  earned in office; benefits and pension do not continue

Pass                       They must stand for elections again if they wish to pursue elected office

If defeated, they have to get their own benefits

If elected, benefits continue

As I have been told, when you do your job, you get paid; else, you move on. Those are the consequences the rest of us face, why should elected officials get a break? Government officials at a state and municipal level are strictly forbidden to fraternize with vendors and accept gifts or they can be terminated. Why is Washington permitted to fraternize with lobbyists, even if it on the pretext of contributing to their elections funds?

Let us have a nominal amount that can be spent on elections, funded by friends, relatives and supporters. The recent Supreme Court ruling is just plain wrong. If you are as good as you profess to be, let your record speak for itself. A web site and a few town hall meetings don’t cost that much. Not a billion dollars.

The Citizens Coalition must be publicly funded, no corporate funds. The salary of its members should be equal to that of a legislator.

They only hold office for 2 years and then rotate out. Each individual in the Coalition is assigned a certain number of Congress representatives whose records are vetted for grades that are to be assigned to them at the end of the terms. The Coalition does not have to mirror Congress in size. It needs to consist of a small group of members who should look into the promises made and delivered and the manner in which congress members have spent their time and conducted themselves.

The work of the Coalition should be public and available for review so that they do not take license with their assumed power. They should be equally open to censure should they not follow the aims and policies of the Coalition.

This is not finished work. It is the beginning of a discussion, because that is how it is supposed to work. We propose, discuss, polish, ratify and then put the ideas into action. We do not need to wake Congress up. We need to wake up the citizens so they believe that they have the power to make a difference in how the country is run.

This is not meant to advance a specific party or a philosophy. It is a cry for a mandate for the people and by the people.



Shami Dugal holds an MPA from Drake University (Des Moines, Iowa). He can be reached at


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