When Gov. Jerry Brown introduced the principle of "subsidiarity" as the basis for his public school local funding formula, my ears perked.
Like the governor, I was in the Catholic seminary. And I too learned the theological basis for subsidiarity. As I recall it, the principle of moving power and decisions as close as we can to the individual honors the dignity and importance of each person, each of God's children.
Subsidiarity was the basis for the Catholic Church's opposition to fascism and communism forms of governance that rely on centralized control more removed from the individual.
While the word "subsidiarity" isn't familiar to most people, the principle is local control. Each person matters more the closer to them that decision-making power lies.
Unions have locals. Corporations have divisions. Service clubs have chapters. Catholics have parishes. Fast food empires have franchises. Armies have battalions. Governments have subdivisions.
Just months after Daniel Day-Lewis won the Academy Award for his portrayal of President Abraham Lincoln, it's good to remember the point of the movie, of Lincoln's presidency that any good principle carried to its extreme can become a basis for evil. Local control can become states' rights can become a Civil War over slavery. And as all Catholics are painfully and shamefully aware, local autonomy of bishops and cardinals allowed priest abuse to go unchecked by the Vatican.
When principle becomes dogma, the most profoundly important rule, one equally grounded in theology, gets broken. That rule that there's an exception to every rule is the basis for granting clemency and showing mercy. God may help those who help themselves, but we're supposed to help, too.
The governor's local funding formula needs an exception. The Legislature should make it. The governor should accept it.
Under the current proposed formula, school districts will receive extra money for students with extra needs. Good idea. The extra money will come without strings. School districts can spend it as they see fit. The governor argues that if local people don't like how that money gets spent, they should exercise their political power over their elected school boards. All good. In a perfect world. Except there is no perfect world.
Little kids who don't read and write English come from homes where their moms and dads don't speak English. It is a mathematical fact that a big percentage of those moms and dads aren't citizens, not eligible to vote and therefore unable to exercise any meaningful local control.
Imagine it's the early and mid-1960s. African Americans in too many states are denied the right to vote. Now imagine a political leader telling them that they ought to vote the politicians who won't let them vote out of office. Sounds silly. But so is a dogmatic adherence to subsidiarity.
There are exceptions to every rule. There should be. Because without them there is no forgiveness, no mercy. Embracing those exceptions is the most profound basis of all the world's great religions. We call it justice.
Richie Ross is a longtime Democratic political consultant in Sacramento.