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Politicians should put what's right ahead of winning votes

By Roland S. Martin, CNN Political Contributor
  • Roland Martin says officials must be willing to lose their jobs
  • He says Camden Mayor Dana Redd has the guts all officials need
  • Redd made drastic cuts to balance her city's budget

Editor's note: Roland Martin is a syndicated columnist and author of "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." He is a commentator for TV One Cable network and host/managing editor of its Sunday morning news show, Washington Watch with Roland Martin.

(CNN) -- Malcolm X once said that the one man you should be most afraid of is a man who is willing to die for what he believes.

When it comes to tackling the enormous deficits that are affecting our cities, counties, states and this country, what we most need are politicians who are willing to lose an election for what they believe is right.

Case in point: Camden, New Jersey, Mayor Dana Redd.

Camden is routinely ranked as one of the most dangerous cities in America. Yet due to a $26 million budget shortfall, Redd made it clear that unless city workers, especially police and firefighters, accepted a pay freeze and paid more for their health care, she would have to slash jobs.

Knowing full well that the last thing residents in Camden could stomach would be fewer cops on the streets, the unions said no to the mayor's request, essentially daring her to make the threatened cuts.

She dropped the ax and it wasn't pretty.

Nearly half the police force was fired, and one-sixth of all city workers -- 335 in all -- got pink slips.

The workers were understandably angry about the firings, but Redd made it clear: The city had to have a balanced budget, and unless concessions were made, she had to do what she had to do.

Yes, her actions were drastic, but it is also a reality that municipalities are facing. Property values have plummeted, meaning those depending on property taxes collect less revenue. With folks pinching pennies due to the economy, raising taxes is considered political suicide. With state governments already facing their own deficits, cities and counties can't look for a bailout; they are on their own and must do more with less, and make the necessary cuts.

These moves have nothing to do with being liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. This is all about living within your means, something every family has to contend with these days.

Surely Redd knows that her actions could result in anger at the ballot box, but she's on the money. And frankly, it's time that voters -- yes, voters -- get serious about the financial problem this nation is in and accept their role in it.

When I hosted a morning show on WVON in Chicago, callers would often call in to say they wanted this and that. When I asked how it would be paid for, no one would have an answer. When asked if they wanted taxes raised, they said no. Well, what about cuts? Nope. It is as if folks think there is a rainbow in the sky and a pot of gold at the end of it that no one else has tapped into.

This is the message that Gov. Jerry Brown is trying to preach in California. Universities are angry about the massive cuts he's proposed, but he's making it clear that everyone has to share the burden of fixing that state's $25 billion budget deficit.

In New York, former Gov. David Paterson kept sounding the alarm, but state officials from both parties and all the liberal and conservative interest groups ignored him. Now Andrew Cuomo is sitting in the governor's mansion, and he's threatening to shut the state down unless they face the music.

The only way this nation will get its fiscal house in order, local or national, is if we have politicians give us the news, regardless of how the pain is administered. Nationally, Democrats can't be protective of Social Security and Medicaid and Republicans can't hold on to every defense dollar.

This week, the Republican Study Committee in Congress offered a thick packet of cuts totaling $2.5 trillion. Missing from it? Anything dealing with defense. Georgia Republican Rep. Tom Price, chairman of the committee, said on my TV One Cable Network show, "Washington Watch," that everything should be on the table.

Frankly, their proposal should be thrown right in the trash.

It's clear that our elected officials are afraid of ticking off voters, with their particular needs, so they kick the can down the road, hoping someone else takes on the tough stuff.

That means voters must be strong enough to back up the hard choices our elected officials must make.

Look, we all want parks, roads, help for those in need, protection from police and firefighters, every pothole to be fixed in a timely manner, flowers along our roads and highways, and all of our entitlements, but as a nation, we simply can't afford it.

Instead of folks slamming Redd for taking draconian measures, she should be celebrated. At least she had the guts to do what so many others were afraid to actually do: lead.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland S. Martin.