It has been four days since the news of the removal of Representative John Kowalko from the House Education Committee was first reported, and it has been four days since we learned the reasons why: that activists cannot be legislators, legislators cannot be activists, and legislators cannot broadcast their dissenting opinions to the blogs, newspapers or radio and still serve on a relevant legislative committee.
Over those four days, Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf has not denied that those were his reasons for removing Representative Kowalko. And over those four days, he has not repudiated his sentiments against activists and dissent expressed in that reasoning. Dismissing a legislator with over twenty years of experience and involvement in public education is short-sighted, regardless of the reason. However, with all due respect to Representative Kowalko, the rationale that activists and legislators cannot be one and the same is even more concerning than the loss of a legislator from a committee. The Progressive Democrats are highly disappointed that Speaker Schwartzkopf appears to believe in that reasoning.
Those who believe in representative democracy and the free expression of ideas also believe in an open and transparent dialogue between the people and their representatives in the legislature. They also allow for dissenting opinions, even on a legislative committee. Indeed, discussing legislation and the issues with the public, and then advocating for or against legislation while in committee, is in the very job description of a Representative. Further, censoring dissenting voices is an abuse of the Speaker’s power with far-reaching implications for democratic government. Democracy without dissent is not democracy, and for Speaker Schwartzkopf to express an attitude that’s more reflective of a dictatorship rather than his present role and responsibilities as leader of the House of Representatives is completely unacceptable.
With regard to this animus against activists: activists are people who care so much about a particular issue that they freely give their precious time to advocate for that issue. Activists are extremely knowledgeable about the particular cause they advocate for. Dedication, passion and knowledge are qualities we want to see in our legislators. They are not qualities that must be stamped out so that obedient lawmakers fall in line and do what they are told. Finally, without activists who volunteer their time, the state Democratic Party collapses as an organization. Without activists, Democratic candidates up and down the ballot lose elections.
The Progressive Democrats for Delaware urge Speaker Schwartzkopf to rethink his comments and embrace, rather than demolish, democratic principles.