A few years ago I was at an event in Ventura County. State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson was speaking about the length of time it took to turn much of her county “blue” (in other words, with elected officials from the Democratic Party.) Looking right at Democratic Rep. Julia Brownley, she said, “It didn’t seem like it was going to change, until it did.”
That’s what happened in Santa Clarita last week. It just changed, in terms of the party registration of some of our elected officials. Democrat Katie Hill had a huge and amazing race, replacing Republican Steve Knight for U.S. Congress. As of Sunday, it looks like Christy Smith is gaining on Dante Acosta for the State Assembly. City Council didn’t change, but some school boards did.
“Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”
– Winston Churchill
Being a political geek, I have never liked the pitchforks and torches approach to change. I love the negotiations and the changes that happen as elected officials work through things, absorbing input from constituents, stakeholders and paid staff members. However, clearly a whole bunch of people were really mad this time and ready to vote. No doubt we’ll hear the data analysis and theories down the road. What I noticed, for the first time, was regular people asking me if I was going to vote. I got asked at the grocery store and the car dealership. I even had a business associate worry that I wasn’t going to make it home in time to vote when working out of the area on election day. I vote by mail, luckily.
This election was great in that it showed what engaged voters can do. There is no one-size-fits-all explanation, though. In New York’s 14th Congressional District, a Democratic Socialist took out a 10-term Democrat in the primary, and went on to win in the fall. However, voters also picked former Republican Harley Rouda, hardly a far left candidate, to oust Republican Dana Rohrabacher in California’s 48th Congressional District, which is still a Republican majority in terms of registration.
A huge thank you to everyone, of any party, who ran for elected office, especially for local, nonpartisan offices. They are so important to our communities and daily lives, but without the glamour of the federal and state positions. My hope is that newcomers learn to get things done and have the willpower to do good things.
That does, indeed, mean putting down any remaining pitchforks and instead, immediately, figuring out how things work and how to make change within the system. You have to figure out how to count votes. How to get allies to speak up for your projects. How to appease opponents. Between it all, you must learn how to remain sane, healthy and supportive of your family and, in the case of local offices, carry on with your day job.
“When widely followed public figures feel free to say anything, without any fact-checking, it becomes impossible for a democracy to think intelligently about big issues.”
― Thomas L. Friedman
To the voters, stay engaged. Vote in every election. Read newspapers and listen to debates and thoughtful analysis. Though their flow will never cease, don’t feel bad about tossing campaign mailers and skipping over campaign ads. Attend or watch government meetings on video, for things of interest to you. As another local official pointed out, watching just one meeting tells you a lot about how your elected officials work … or don’t work. If you have a concern, try calling the appropriate staff person to understand the issues before believing what you see on Facebook or Twitter.
“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.”
– John F. Kennedy
There’s no quick and easy solution in a democracy. No single election is going to make or break us. Lack of participation, lack of cooperation, and lack of knowledge will. In this election, and every future election, we must keep moving forward.
“Our democracy must be not only the envy of the world but the engine of our own renewal. There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.”
– Bill Clinton
Maria Gutzeit is a chemical engineer, business owner, elected official, and mom living in Santa Clarita. “Democratic Voices” appears Tuesdays and rotates among several local Democrats.