The New York Times recently published a special section devoted to the women of the 116th Congress — all 131 of the current female U.S. representatives, senators and delegates. The article highlights the changes happening in our country’s political system, changes occurring because people went from being mere spectators to active participants.
The multi-page spread carried a brief statement about each elected official. Several of the women pointed out that they initially ran for office because a particular issue drove them to act. Rep. Judy Chu started a grassroots coalition in her hometown to beat back an anti-immigrant proposal before her city council. Rep. Lucy McBath ran for Congress after her son was murdered — she wanted to know why this could happen. Sen. Maggie Hassan ran to make sure there were equal opportunities for those, like her son, who have severe disabilities. Each woman saw an issue needing to be addressed and each decided to be the one to do something about it.
Their stories are inspiring, not only for women who are seeking greater roles of responsibility in government, but for all of us who see an unmet need in our community. Fortunately for those of us in Clatsop County, our next opportunity to move from spectator to participant is coming soon; May 21 to be exact. That is when approximately 120 positions within dozens of special districts will be up for election.
Special districts are governmental bodies formed to provide a service or function not offered by an existing municipal or county government. While the political activities in Salem or Washington, D.C. may seem beyond your ability to influence, the workings of local special districts are focused directly on your community and can touch your life in very immediate ways.
The special districts electing officers this May in Clatsop County include all public school districts; Clatsop Community College; Port of Astoria; both the Clatsop Care and Union health districts; every rural fire and rescue district, and water and sanitary district; Clatsop Rural Law Enforcement District; Sunset Empire Parks and Recreation District; and Sunset Empire Transportation District.
To get on the ballot for any of these special district positions, candidates must file with the county’s Elections Office by March 21. You can file beginning Feb. 9. The Election Office website has all the information you need to learn more.
Running for a special district office would help highlight the issues you find important. For example, do you have a desire to see changes to the curriculum or facilities at your child’s school? Now is the chance to do more than just talk about it — run for the school board and push for the classes and services needed to ready our kids for the future. Worried that when the big one hits you won’t have adequate emergency response capabilities in your area? Then seek out a position on your fire protection district and propose how to best cover your locale. Think there is a need for better care options for our aging and health-challenged population? There are health districts needing your ideas and energy. The best way to address the issues central to special districts is to run for office and work for change.
Pushing for change requires effort. One of the quotes in the Times article that brings home the importance of running for office was from Rep. Norma Torres. She said, “Change doesn’t happen because it is needed — it happens when someone fights for it.”
Part of that fight is the act of running for office. As I encourage people to run, the most common objections I hear are their lack of free time to devote to the position, unfamiliarity with how the district works, no money to run a campaign or the fear of public speaking.
All of those points can be obstacles, but without someone willing to step up and run, we will be left largely with the wealthy, the retired or the attention seekers running for office. Nothing against those folks, but if that winnowing process is unacceptable to you, become a candidate driven by a fire in the belly for a cause and a willingness to sacrifice for your community.
Take heart. There are those willing to help. To make it less daunting, there will be a free Elections 101 seminar on Saturday, March 9 from 10:30 a.m. to noon in the Flag Room of the Astoria Library. The seminar will go over the mechanics of running for office — how to file, form a team, raise money and follow the reporting guidelines. This is valuable information for the candidate or the campaign volunteer. The Clatsop County Democratic Party will conduct the seminar, but it is open to those of all political persuasions. The races in May are nonpartisan and the seminar is too.
Running for office is at the heart of our democracy, a system our forefathers and mothers designed to give you a say in the affairs of your community. Now is the time for you to step up, get involved and join the fight.
Bryan Kidder is chair of the Clatsop County Democratic Party and a commissioner of the Sunset Empire Transportation District.