It is easy to become frustrated with the direction of our town, county, state or nation. Seasoned observers lament that money has too great an influence and things will never change. More recent observers don’t understand why elected officials just don’t do the right thing regardless of the pressures.
Is there anything you, the individual citizen, can do to change the course we are on? Yes, there is. It is to become a precinct committee person within your political party.
As a precinct committee person, also called a PCP, you represent the people in your precinct with the responsibility to define, organize and coordinate the grassroots effort around the issues of concern to you and your neighbors. This is an elective position and the May 15 primary elections will include ballot choices for PCPs throughout Clatsop County. To get on the ballot, interested citizens must submit their application to the Clatsop County Elections division by March 6. The application form can be found at sos.oregon.gov/elections/Documents/SEL105.pdf.
Each precinct is allocated male and female PCP positions based upon the number of registered party members living in that precinct. All parties registered in a county are eligible to have PCPs. For example, in Astoria’s precinct 47, there are five male and five female PCP positions for the county Democratic party because of the large number of registered Democrats in that precinct. And yes, Oregon law specifies PCP positions by gender.
The PCP can be the starting point for enacting change, because the PCP is a key part of how parties are organized. The state of Oregon laws on political party structure say that PCPs are the voting members of their party’s county leadership committee. As such, they can bring their issues to the party and begin moving issues forward for broader consideration.
The PCP has the power to vote on the leadership of the party, set its direction and determine its priorities. For example, as a representative of a precinct, a PCP can bring forward neighborhood concerns about affordable housing and then band together with other PCPs with a similar perspective to seek consensus on an approach. With this broader base of support the issue can be expressed to elected officials with the backing of the party.
There is another power given to a party’s PCPs. The precinct committee persons from the party holding an elective office nominate replacements to fill unexpired terms when a position is vacated before the next regularly scheduled election. The slate of three to five PCP-chosen people goes to the county commissions in that district, who have the ultimate authority to fill the open seat. This is not as uncommon as you might think, giving PCPs a special role when unexpected openings arise.
So why is being a PCP any more effective in inducing change than expressing your opinion through letters to the editor or speaking at city council meetings? The truth is that for democracy to work, all those options are needed. As a PCP, you may learn of issues through the media or public meeting attendance. It is what you do with that knowledge that sets the PCP apart.
PCPs are the eyes and ears of the political community. The large number of voices they represent brings legitimacy to a political party’s issues. The debate at the party level refines issues through the fire of discussion. As an active member of their neighborhood, they are already hearing what others have to say about local issues.
Does this sound like too much work? You don’t have the time? True, it can be hard work and it will take time. But recognize that the actions you are upset about or the laws you disagree with were worked hard over a long period of time by someone else to get where they are today. No one said making change would be easy.
Becoming a PCP can also be a stepping stone to higher office. By building relationships in your neighborhood and party, you are building a network for your ideas. Learning the process as a PCP exposes you to the workings of a body like a city council, transportation district, county commission, fire district or state office, should your interests go in that direction.
But the first step is to become the precinct committee person for your neighborhood. Take the time to download the application form, fill it out and submit it to the county. Then tell your friends to vote for you. This is a good way to do something about the direction we are going. If someone has ever told you that you should run for office, now is your chance. Become a PCP and bring your perspectives into the process.
Bryan Kidder is communications director for the Clatsop County Democratic Central Committee.