by Michael Maisel
Some of you may recognize the title of this story as a quote from Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, the Speaker of the House from 1977-87. Pretty remarkable coming from a man who was second in line to the presidency and led Congress through the challenges of Reaganomics and other issues foreign and domestic.
O’Neill not only talked the talk, but he walked the walk — literally. On weekends, he regularly walked through his district, talking with his constituents and listening to their challenges and day-to-day issues.
So, think for a moment about the recent coup in Niger. Now, think about the traffic on Route 17 through Leland into and out of Wilmington. Which has a greater and more immediate impact on your life, what the State Department does in Niger, or what Brunswick County and NCDOT do about the infrastructure in our county?
This is not to say one issue is more important than the other. But clearly, the need for infrastructure planning and development in Brunswick County (still the fastest-growing county in our state) affects your life more on a day-to-day basis.
Impacting your government
How can you have an impact on how your local government makes your community better? You could start by taking the survey to provide input on the Cape Fear Navigating Change 2050 Plan. If you haven’t heard of it yet, you have now.
It should go without saying that the single most important way you can impact the direction of your local government is to vote in municipal elections. However, voter turnout in off-year (non-presidential) elections is considerably lower than in presidential election years.
Municipal elections are, by themselves, non-partisan, but most candidates are registered with a political party. You can find out which one here.
Further, since municipal elections have less funding than national elections, finding out about candidate backgrounds and platforms may be a manual process. But it’s worth the effort, because there’s nothing more impactful than casting an informed vote in your municipal elections. Here are some other ways you can impact local government.
Be informed — Keep up with local news and government updates through newsletters, social media, and official websites. Sunshine laws in North Carolina require government bodies to publicize meetings, hearings and actions. Most do this through their websites, but also in legacy media, like newspapers. Bookmark your local government’s website; Brunswick County's is here.
Engage with local government — Attend meetings of the various councils and boards in your community. Most publish their agendas, so you can see what issues are being discussed or acted upon. You may find some of these are issues that are important to you. Many of these meetings can be attended online, so you can see and/or comment live, while others are recorded and available on sites like YouTube, so you can review meetings at your convenience. You should be able to easily find the email addresses of your local representatives, so you can share your views with them most any time.
Join or volunteer — Many local governments have citizen advisory boards or commissions covering areas like environment, infrastructure, public safety and others. This is a great way to contribute your views and experience to help your community deal with its challenges.
Run for local office — While this one comes with the biggest time commitment, it also offers the most opportunity to directly impact your community’s future. You’ll learn a great deal not only about how your community government functions, but also the “other” side of the story - views and opinions different from yours. You’ll also hear from experts on various issues who provide the council or board with critical information for decision support. In the end, your vote could affect positive change, like building a school.
Most local elected officials are more accessible than state or national representatives. They’re your neighbors, people you see at stores, restaurants and events locally from time to time. Most want to hear your opinion on issues affecting your community.
So don’t be shy. Get involved!