Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | May 13, 2008

It’s up to us

“Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.” ~ Franklin Delano Roosevelt

If you’re not a registered voter, you have less than a week to fix that in time to vote in California’s June 3 primary election. May 19 is the deadline to register.

To register to vote in California, you must be a mentally competent U.S. citizen, aged 18 years by election day, who is not in prison or on parole for a felony. Check online to see if you’re currently registered to vote.

If you’re not registered, forms are available at post offices, public libraries, city, county and DMV offices, or online.

The June 3 primary, with many uncontested primary races, is not the sexiest of elections. However, it does feature two dueling propositions addressing an important civil liberties issue: eminent domain.

If you want to live in a state where the government cannot force you to sell your real estate to another private party, vote yes on Prop 98, which protects all California real estate from forced sale on behalf of private developers.

If you want to live in a state where the government cannot force you to sell your real estate to another private party, vote no on Prop 99, which addresses only owner-occupied homes – not businesses, churches, farms, or rental property – and then only with numerous exceptions.

It’s up to us.

“People often say that in a democracy, decisions are made by a majority of the people. Of course, that is not true. Decisions are made by a majority of those who make themselves heard and who vote – a very different thing.” ~ U.S. Congressman Walter H. Judd

Why am I so passionate about voting? Because it’s the best way that citizens can hold their government agencies accountable.

If you don’t vote, you make it easier for your school board to allow its administration to draw high school attendance boundaries behind closed doors, as the Gilroy Unified School District recently did.

If you don’t vote, you make it easier for your city government to purchase, without appraisals, two parcels of real estate for $1.9 million, a price that represents an estimated $500,000 premium, as Morgan Hill’s redevelopment agency recently did.

If you don’t vote, you make it easier for your water agency directors to allow water rates to increase many times faster than the rate of inflation as Santa Clara Valley Water District rates are.

If you don’t vote, you make it easier for your state legislators to avoid agreement on a sensible plan to reform redistricting, something the California legislature has been unable or unwilling to do.

If you don’t vote, you make it easier for for your president to skew the constitutionally mandated balance of power between the three branches of government, to cherry-pick intelligence to lead this nation into an unnecessary war, to pooh-pooh the Geneva Conventions, to wink at torture and to shirk his oath to “protect and defend the Constitution” by trampling civil liberties, as the Bush Administration has.

“Think globally, act locally.” ~ Environmentalist David Brower

Of course, voting is just the first – but arguably most important – step in holding elected officials accountable. Full accountability also involves communicating with your elected officials about issues that arise. You can do this by speaking at meetings, writing or calling, and by talking with your neighbors in person and on the pages of your local newspaper’s opinion section.

It’s all linked. By failing to hold local government officials accountable, we produce politicians who resist accountability as they move up the political ladder to regional, state and federal positions.

If you won’t let your feelings be known to your local politicians, you’re even less likely to communicate with your state and federal elected officials.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama frequently makes two important points that underscore the importance of voting: We are the change that we seek, and change happens from the bottom up, instigated by ordinary people, not politicians.

He’s exactly right.

Are you frustrated by your local, regional, state, or federal governmental agencies? Change them.

Register by May 19; cast educated ballots on June 3 and Nov. 4; keep in touch with your elected officials year-round.

“Do not forget that every people deserves that government which it tolerates.” ~ Nazi resistance leader Hans Scholl

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