Local Government – Staying Informed

Picture of the word vote

By: J. S.

As Americans, it is important that we stay informed regarding decisions in our local government. There are several straightforward ways to stay up-to-date on legislature and decision making by your community and state representatives. We are a Constitutional Republic, meaning the constitution is the law of the land. Once we recognize that we have both a voice and an obligation towards our country, it is important to understand how our government operates at a local level.

Why is it important to be aware of what is happening in your government? Firstly, the decisions made in the local government directly affect daily life. The decision making process is designed to provide citizens the chance of taking an active role, from voting for representatives, to submitting testimony and speaking at hearings. With every new law, our families, and our children’s families, will live with the consequences, both positive and otherwise. It can feel quite simple to sit aside and allow someone to make those choices for us, but we also have the incredible ability to help determine what local laws are enacted.

Secondly, it is critical to understand what the local government is doing and planning to do. Rather than being blindsided by an increase in state taxes, new parking restrictions or new health mandates, we are able to have a say by submitting testimony, by calling representatives, by voting for candidates who align with each of our individual ideals.

It is not acceptable as adults to take a hands off approach and then lament when things are not the way that we want them to be around us. We may not be sitting in congress passing laws. But we determine who is elected to represent us in congress, and if we consistently hold candidates to a high standard by understanding their motivations and their track records, and holding them accountable to act in the best interest of their constituents, then we have a higher chance of supporting officials who can help better our communities.

On a third note, elected officials are human beings, neighbors, colleagues and classmates. At times they seem elevated to some higher status in our imaginations, as though they are beyond corruption or as though they will care for others interests 100% of the time, even over their own. This is an unrealistic expectation for elected officials, and it is simply not reality in most settings, least of all government. The reality is that the citizens of each state hold a responsibility and a power in legislative due process for a reason; that reason is that no person is incorruptible. 

We, The People of the United States of America are empowered. Often it appears from what we hear in the mainstream that we are limited to have our say in government every four years. It is little wonder citizens sometimes feel their votes do not count. After being tossed through the political and emotional ringer of an election year, we are patted on the head and instructed to vote – our power feels stripped. This is not the case at all, and it is important we do not buy into this belief. 

Rather, we each hold the responsibility to stay informed on local government each year, each election season, each legislative session, and this is because doing so is an incredibly small price we pay as citizens of a Constitutional Republic. One could even go a step further and say it is not a price at all, but rather a pressing necessity that we all involve ourselves in paying attention to local government. Our country was not built to be run by a select few; we thrive as a nation when we make decisions on a very local level. No one will care for our communities the way we will, and we should not expect that they would. We take ownership of our schools, our public spaces, our towns when we understand that we have the innate right and responsibility as adults to choose how each is best operated, managed and funded.

Of course this does not mean things will always go our way, or that we will get what we want, but it does ensure that when we do not get our way we trust that there were enough good citizens who felt opposite of us on the subject that the decision was made fairly and with due process. Imagine the standard that those in government may have to hold themselves accountable to, with the eyes of all citizens on them.

How do we get involved in understanding local government?  Here are three simple recommendations to get us all started along the path. If you’re not already involved, these methods are quick, efficient and impactful. This is by no means an exhaustive list. 

  1. Get to Know Your Representatives

Know the names of those who represent your town, district and state. One method is by visiting hawaii.capitol.gov and finding your area’s representatives. You can even search by a representative’s name and see which bills they’ve sponsored and supported over the years. 

  1. Keep an Eye on The Current Legislature 

The internet makes it more simple than ever to track current bills. Using the same website as above, you can easily search keywords using the toolbar on the left side of the page. Websites such as Legiscan.com are useful in getting email notifications on updates to bills you choose to track. Find a full guide to the legislative process here.

  1. Submit Testimony

Write letters and make phone calls when it is needed. Submit live or written testimony on  bills that are currently passing through the legislature. View a live or recorded video conference regarding topics of interest and hear testimony on all sides.

One small step, such as being aware of the current bills in the legislature, or calling your representative when something is amiss in your community can make a difference. It is important that we understand our rights and believe it can indeed make a difference. Nothing worth having is easy. As Americans we often believe there is “never enough time.” It is time we challenge ourselves to find the time, because we can make a positive impact by being active and involved where we are in our towns and cities.