You have likely heard the phrases “limited government” and “transparency” when it comes to discussing concepts of governance, and you may even have heard that these ideas are “good.” But the problem with these phrases is that politicians love to throw them about to make themselves sound upright, but sometimes they are unwilling to define what they mean in practice or even why these ideas are good.

My name is John Padula, and I am running for a seat on the Board of County Commissioners for Kootenai County. I guess that makes me a politician. But so that no voters misunderstand me, let me explain what these concepts mean to me and why I believe they are essential for a sound, responsible government.

There are only three County Commissioners in Kootenai County, Idaho. Being a County Commissioner is a heavy responsibility; Kootenai County is Idaho’s third most populous county. Limited government and transparency are crucial principles that I will abide and govern by if I am elected. It is important to me that the County Commissioners’ actions as a governing body are just and responsive to the needs of the county’s 170,000-plus citizens. 

Limited Government: What It Means, and Why It’s Necessary

Limited government is the term applied to a foundational principle emphasizing the necessity of having restrictions on what the government can do. History is full of leaders whose power was unchecked. While there may have been good rulers among them, the problem is that not everyone is good. As the saying goes, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take away everything that you have.”

In our system of government in the United States, the government is supposed to be limited, and the individual’s rights are paramount. The idea is that people are different and want to engage in the “pursuit of happiness” in their own way – not necessarily the way the government wants them to. While the government is necessary to curb certain destructive behaviors and enforce norms of good citizenship (for example, to prevent theft, murder, deceptive practices, and so on), it cannot, and should not, control everything. Behind the idea of the U.S. government is not just that its power is limited but that its primary responsibility in undertaking government action is to protect the individual.

Principles of limited government are advanced through several mechanisms, including:

  • Statement of Rights: An explicit guarantee of specific rights, such as those enumerated in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, establishes freedoms that governments cannot infringe upon, even if the government believes some critical public interest can be achieved by taking one action or another. It establishes a moral and legal framework that protects individual freedoms.
  • Checks and Balances: By dividing power among different branches of government, power is not concentrated in one person or body. In this system, where there is tension between the different branches, the goal is to ensure that each branch prevents abuses of the others and provides accountability to the electorate. 
  • Enumerated Powers: Specific powers of governing bodies must be spelled out. Ideally,  the branches of government cannot exercise powers outside these specific grants of authority. 
  • Democratic Elections: In systems with elected offices, the principle of limited government is reinforced through democratic elections in which officials serve fixed terms. Periodic elections enable people to choose who will exercise the powers of a given office and to remove those who do not fulfill their duties.

Transparency in Government Operations

Transparency means that voters should know what their elected officials are doing and why they are doing them. In practice, it means several things:

  • Holding open hearings for all official business
  • Officials being accessible to and accountable to voters
  • Officials explaining clear rationales for their decisions
  • Officials and those close to them (friends, family) deriving no personal or financial interest or benefits in the outcome of any government action
  • Making sure that any proposed actions are available for public perusal

Transparency provides many benefits to both voters and elected office-holders. Transparency helps:

  • Build trust: Trust is in short supply regarding government, and for good reason. When legislators are dishonest or self-serving, there is justification for voters not to trust them. To build and establish trust, office-holders must be an open book, whether a voter agrees or disagrees with their positions. 
  • Gain new ideas: Being accessible to voters means listening to their concerns. The reality is that with more discussion and more minds focused on an issue, everyone can learn and gain new perspectives. Better ideas and better solutions are likely to be the result.
  • Increase engagement: Part of the reason there is a lack of transparency is that not enough people are paying attention to what their elected officials are doing. We need to welcome more interaction with and involvement of the people of our community, and one way to do that is to reach out rather than work in solitude. 
  • Understand the community’s needs: Each person has only a limited view of what goes on in any community, even if they work to be involved. With improved outreach and communication, you can be more responsive to existing and emerging issues before they become serious problems.
  • Empower citizens: With increased transparency comes increased trust and collaboration. When citizens feel that their elected officials are responsive to their inquiries, they are more willing to be a part of the solution, proudly shouldering the responsibilities of citizenship because they know that they can make a difference in the well-being of their community.
  • Educate citizens: Through different communication channels, including social media, citizens can learn more about issues and their local officials’ actions in their community. Informed citizens are the key to good governance and responsible voting. 

As I seek elective office to serve as a County Commissioner, I want voters to know exactly where I stand on the principles of limited government and transparency. Any government’s proper role is to foster an environment where individual liberty is the highest ideal while still recognizing that the government has a role in establishing an orderly society where citizens can thrive. As Kootenai County grows, it will be more critical than ever that we safeguard these principles and not succumb to the temptation to wield greater power just because we face new challenges.

If you vote for me, John Padula, for Kootenai County Commissioner, you can depend on me to promote a body that is accountable, responsive, and genuinely representative of the community it serves. Please vote for me, John Padula, on May 21, 2024.