Governing in a Cynical Age

Public servants should work to restore people’s faith in government.
September 2019
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe (David Kidd)
By Mark Funkhouser  |  Publisher
Former mayor of Kansas City, Mo.

When I learned that Governing was closing and I began to think about what I wanted to say to our readers in this final print edition, my mind went back to the words of then-Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe at the dinner in 2012 where we recognized him as one of our Public Officials of the Year. Noting the accomplishments of the other leaders being honored that evening, he warned about “the cynicism that permeates our society and our government,” which, he said, “can cause all of these accomplishments to go for naught.”

What we need, he told the other honorees, is “somehow to do all we can to restore the faith of our people in a system of government that has stood us in good stead for over two centuries.” It was in that spirit that he suggested that “Governing magazine really does deserve the award. They deserve the award more than anybody does.” Those were kind words, and we appreciated that Beebe saw us as what we always aspired to be: an effective voice for better government.

To that end, we have worked to provide readers not only with information and ideas, but also to connect them with allies who could help them have an impact. As journalists, we were unique in that while we were quick to point out where something was wrong or wasn’t working, we were always on the side of dedicated public leaders and wanted them to succeed.

The work of Governing has been so important because state and local government is so essential—particularly in an era of retrenchment and political gridlock at the federal level—while the work of actually governing is so hard. Governments provide essential services, from public safety and infrastructure to education and health care, but perhaps the most important responsibility, and the most difficult path, is to be a careful fiscal steward.

A willingness to take the difficult path is what distinguishes so many of the public leaders I’ve encountered in my time with Governing. They know, as Beebe put it that night, that despite its faults ours is “still the greatest form of self-government that’s been created on this planet,” one that “deserves to be maintained and sustained.” The cynicism Beebe decried in 2012 is even more intense now, and the people who lead our state and local governments need help and support more than ever. I fervently hope that, in some form or fashion, the void we are leaving will be filled.