Taking notice of government that works

Government works. And, for the most part, it works very well.

That’s my experience, and I’m willing to bet it’s yours, too.

But I bet at least 38 percent of you would claim that government is badly broken and only stands in the way of good things happening regardless of your own experience.

Last week, I needed to register my motorcycle and update my driver’s license at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. The office closes at 4:30 p.m. The day had gotten away from me, and I arrived at 4:11 p.m. A little close for comfort.

There were, according to the numbers on the ticket I received, at least 50 people in front of me. There were four windows open, plus an information desk that was helping people to pre-sort their paperwork to speed up service at the window.

My first thought: There is no way that I’m going to get done today. I’ll be making a second trip.

Turns out that while the doors were locked at 4:30 p.m., the entire office kept moving right along until every person who was waiting received service.

The tasks ranged from the complicated – like taking a written driving exam – to the more mundane like registering a car.

When I took my turn at the window, there were only four people left behind me and it was almost 5 p.m. The person who helped me was friendly, courteous and fast. I was out of the office just after 5 p.m., while she and her co-workers kept working.

No question the BMV folks would have liked to finish by 4:30 p.m., but they kept working for me and the other taxpayers waiting for service after closing time.

On the town level, the clerk’s office in Portland is uniformly helpful and easy to deal with, whether I’ve been turning in signatures for a candidate for public office, paying my property taxes or some other task.

And through award-winning innovation, Maine local and state government cooperate to make many trips downtown unnecessary. I can do them right from my computer.

My garbage and recycling is always picked up. The parks in my city are always clean and inviting. I feel safe on the streets and trust that the professionals at the fire department will come if I need them.

When my neighbor accidently spilled diesel fuel, a quick phone call to the Department of Environmental Protection and a trailer was dropped by so the contaminated dirt could be cleaned up and safely hauled away.

Likewise on the federal level, my mom has never missed a Social Security check, and Medicare makes sure that she can see a doctor when she needs to and keeps me informed – even though I’m thousands of miles away – with what’s going on.

My kids’ school is safe and responsive, and the teachers are incredible professionals who have helped my children to learn and grow.

Even paying taxes isn’t that bad. A few years ago, I made an error on my Maine tax return. Maine Revenue Service sent me a letter. Needless to say, I was freaking out.

When I called, they were able to fix the problem on the telephone, which was the result of a problem with for-profit tax preparation software that I had used. I had to wait on hold for a little while, but the MRS representative was responsive and solved my problem.

It’s all government at work.

I’ve lived in places where things never worked. We’ve got it good in Maine.

Political debate obviously focuses on what’s wrong. People run for office because they want to make things better. But that means that they have to highlight the places where things might work better. That’s the way it is.

But the repulsion in some circles concerning government and the work government does is out of whack with reality.

Folks like Grover Norquist have made a career out of trying to shrink government small enough to “drown” it in the bath.

Or like former Gov. Mitt Romney or Gov. Paul LePage, they undervalue public employees, malign them and try to turn the rest of us against them.

Perhaps if I ran a company that was heavily regulated because it produces dangerous products or waste, I’d feel differently. But as a guy who lives in a neighborhood not far from an industrial area and near the railroad tracks, I’m glad to know that there are rules in place to help protect me and my family and that the government is making sure those rules are followed.

And that if the worst were to happen and some terrible chemical were to be released, the Maine Emergency Management Agency, the fire department and the police, would put themselves at risk to make sure we are safe.

Our country celebrates its birthday this week. And for more than 235 years, our government by the people and for the people has served us well.

Naturally, people tend to remember when something doesn’t work instead of all the times when things go pretty well, but the next time you’re inclined to attack government and government workers, think about all the times they get the job done without much notice.

David Farmer is a political and media consultant. He was formerly deputy chief of staff and communications director for Gov. John E. Baldacci and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at dfarmer14@hotmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @dfarmer14.