- - Thursday, May 12, 2016

Amere three years ago, Elaine Vechorik didn’t imagine herself becoming a political activist. She was a small-business owner, satisfied with making a success of her motorcycle restoration and parts shop. Then she decided to get involved in the political process and Mississippi hasn’t been the same.

Rather than focus on national issues, Mrs. Vechorik said she prefers to stick with ones that directly affect Mississippians.

One of her biggest successes was helping to kill the state’s inspection sticker law, which charged $5 per sticker and on which the state lost money every year.

For several years, the Mississippi House passed bills to end the program, which gave garages $3 for the cursory inspection and $2 back to the state, and each year the bills died in the Senate.

Her photo illustrations and calls to key legislators for action finally helped goad the legislature into killing the program in 2015, a statewide election year.

Her unwavering support for a bill that gave Mississippi citizens “constitutional carry” — the right to carry a weapon without a government permission slip — helped get the legislation enacted this month. Last year, she also waged a successful campaign against gun bans in state welcome centers and rest areas. She’s now taking that fight to state-owned parks and courthouses that prohibit firearms in violation of state law.

As a grass-roots activist and vice president of Mississippi for Liberty, Mrs. Vechorik has more than 24,000 followers on Facebook. She has made her photo illustrations on social media a key part of getting people involved and engaged. She took an online graphics design class due to her interest in art and never suspected how useful it would be.

“Think of all of the competition that you have on social media,” she said. “You’ve got to grab their attention in five seconds.”

It wasn’t one incident or issue that got Mrs. Vechorik into the political fray.

“I think I got so uncomfortable in what has happened in politics that it forced me into action,” Mrs. Vechorik said. “I didn’t know what to do and I had to learn. People won’t act until there is a problem. That’s discomfort. Plus, I’m getting older and when you start getting older, you get the feeling ‘if I’m going to do so something, I better do it now.’”

She joined a local tea party group, but didn’t feel she was getting much from it. The same went for joining her county’s Republican Party executive committee. It wasn’t until she joined Mississippi for Liberty that she figured out how to turn her energy into results. She attended activist training, learning how the political system works and what citizens can do.

Her advice to wannabe activists is simple: Find and use your talents and get some training. She says that she’s not a social butterfly or a great public speaker, but that everyone has some talent that is useful in a cause. She also said someone who wants to get involved should specialize in issues that interest them and become subject matter expert.

Her latest crusade is civil asset forfeiture reform, a hot topic right now in the Mississippi legislature. She supports a bill that would require record keeping for all seized property, a small first step on the road toward overhauling a system that allows law enforcement to take property from people who have not been convicted of any crime. At present, law enforcement agencies aren’t required to keep records on what property they seize or what they do with the proceeds.

She is also monitoring a bill that would allow the state to refuse to comply with federal executive orders that violate the state’s constitution, especially when it comes to gun control.

“It bugs me when people pick on Mississippi and we’re the ugly stepchild of the nation,” Mrs. Vechorik said. “Any time someone wants to bully a state, it’s Mississippi. They’re the worst here, they’re the worst there. If we at least had a reporting system [on civil asset forfeiture], citizen activists could look at that and see what’s going on. Mississippi needs that desperately. We can be a leader in the nation on that. That makes me want to try that much harder. Let’s lead.”

Elaine Vechorik’s dedication to reform on an eclectic set of issues and to educating others on the nuances of policy — including those who should already know — reflect her belief in the ability of Mississippians to manage their own lives without being overseen by the heavy hand of government. And that dedication makes her this month’s Washington Times Unsung Hero.

Steve Wilson is a reporter for Watchdog.org.

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