Friday, October 3, 2014

Pay attention because politics matter

     The first Tuesday after the first Monday in November is election day this year.  While many of us living here in the Wood River Valley are political junkies, not all are.

     Although there are some who proudly proclaim that they have never voted before and will never will, it is a small group, In Blaine County, three-quarters of eligible voters do vote.

     Politics, like it or not, matter. Elections determine who will serve as mayor, council representatives, county commissioners, and even sheriff. Who holds these positions makes a real difference in the type of life in a community, i.e. the condition of the streets, fire, ambulance and police services.

     Elections for legislators and governors at the state level and congressmen, senators and the president at the federal level draw more voter turnout, but words like precinct, primaries, off-year elections, the electoral college and voter registration often mean nothing to many.

     Claiming that all politicians are crooks just because a favored candidate does not win is not a sign that government does not work. It is often just a cheap and easy way to stop paying attention.

     Most people, when asked, profess no interest in politics. When topics that affect their lives are mentioned, however, those same people often find themselves more than interested. It’s a worrisome disconnect that we educate in order to make students ready for jobs but not for citizenship. There is something wrong when students are educated to make a living but not prepared to play a role in the governance of their country.

     An important part of any newspaper’s business is providing people the information to make a reasoned choice. The Mountain Express’ Pizza and Politics event, for instance, allows candidates and voters an opportunity to hear each other’s unfiltered opinions. This kind of active interchange is why voter turnout is high and why good candidates are willing to run. What newspapers and candidates do is not enough to ensure a government that is responsive to its citizens.

     If voters know the duties of the offices being contested, if they understand how political beliefs directly affect how those duties are carried out, they can appreciate that elections matter to them personally. They are more likely to both pay attention and to vote.

     Knowledge about public offices and elections used to be called “civics.” Somewhere along the line, civics seems to have been lost. We would do well to find it again.

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