- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2003

I know, I know, that you’re either way too busy, too bothered or too broke to care about today’s local elections.

I know, I know, that you think politicians are parasites or pariahs, and they are just preoccupied with keeping their jobs.

I know, I know, that you think your vote doesn’t matter. Yet someone much wiser than me hammered home the point that, “You are either part of the problem or part of the solution.” Voting is your voice. Voting is your power, and to the victor go the goodies, as in careers, contracts and political concepts.

As the young folk say, “If you don’t participate, then don’t player hate.” In other words, if you don’t vote, then don’t complain about those who do. If you don’t get involved in the political process, then don’t complain about how it works, or doesn’t. Today, the first Tuesday in November, is traditionally voting day. So put “go to polling place” at the top of your to-do list.

With the exception of the District, where there are no contests this year, you can cast a ballot for sheriff and Board of Supervisors chairman in Fairfax, County Board members in Arlington, a mayor in Greenbelt, term limits in Rockville and the entire Republican-dominated General Assembly in Virginia.

And, you had better know that these bread-and-butter state and municipal elections are just as important to your daily quality of life as picking a president.

For it is the mayor, or the council member or the board chairman who determine your property-tax rates, that will or will not provide for classrooms, snowplows, bus service and trash collection. Traffic troubles? Some Virginia folks couldn’t even get to the polls to vote by 7 p.m. last time because they were stuck in traffic on our interstate highways, and the road and transit measure still didn’t pass go. (Would someone please introduce legislation to extend voting hours in Virginia now that it takes a minor miracle to get home by nightfall owing to traffic congestion on a good day, let alone when the sky is falling.) Every vote, in every precinct, in every race, counts.

Even in my deepest moments of political disillusionment, I recognize that the only thing that we plain people have at our disposal to level the high-priced political playing field is our vote.

In the end, even the richest of politicians can be held accountable — or not — by voters. It’s too bad more people can name the quarterback of their favorite football team faster than their local representative. Too bad we so often fail to realize our personal political power. When we don’t vote, we are in essence saying that we’ve given up on democracy, that we no longer believe we can bring about change through the most fundamental freedom of the franchise.

As it has developed into an annual habit, I keep trying to figure out ways to address voter apathy come each Election Day. I concede I can think of no new arguments to counter the often-offered excuses. Vote because you can. Vote because it matters. Vote because lopsided politics and lucrative politicians are either out of reach or out of touch. The one thing they’re not out of is plain people’s pockets.

Who can blame voters from being so angry with politics as usual that they commit curious acts? Maybe it takes a superstar or sports hero — i.e., California Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger — to grab the peeved public’s attention, because clearly a whole lot of disingenuous politicians cannot.

Voters wonder if their representatives are listening to them or to their deep-pocketed donors, especially on the local level. Better have a chunk of “soft money” to contribute to their megamillion-dollar campaign war chests to get an audience.

Can we please have real election reform? You’ve got to wonder how many community crises could be cured with half the obscene amount of money contributed to political campaigns. Still, it’s a sad day indeed when you come to a breaking point where you voluntarily allow someone else — someone who has not the slightest inkling about the stresses and successes of your life — to control your destiny.

Think about it. When was the last time a politician — so many of whom are millionaires — even contemplated what it’s like to go to the grocery store, pay for day care, buy gas, get their car out of the repair shop or pay their tax bill on the week they’re not expecting a paycheck? Not only the pols, but their well-paid staffers (some pulling in six-figure salaries at public expense) have lost touch with John Q. Public.

You’ve heard it said that “all politics is local.” Therefore, people vote in their own self-interest. What’s in it for me? A lot.

Well, at the very least, you might be able to keep a few bucks if you vote for a representative least likely to spend your hard-earned dollars repaying big contributors with tax-free incentives and giveaways.

You might think that these local off-year elections are not worth your time, but think again. It’s at this local level that political decisions are made that have a greater effect on your daily quality of life.

I know, I know, that I’ve told you all this before. I know, I know, you just don’t care. But watching the wild and wicked decisions some of these politicians make, I know you’ve just got to get it together today and go out and vote for better.

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