Ah, the smell of politics in the morning
By Pat Tally - Guest Column
Jan. 9, 2017 at 4:12 p.m.
Updated Jan. 10, 2017 at 12:15 a.m.
New Year's resolution for 2017: Learn to love the smell of politics in the morning.
I used to encourage my staff to serve on committees, to attend training opportunities, to learn about administration. I'd say 99 percent of the time, throughout a 40-year career, the answer was, "Please, no. I can't stand politics."
Staying informed about the processes that most affect your day to day life is not politics; it's survival. Staying uninformed, in fact, leaves you powerless when actual politics come after you. Politics is in the very air you breathe and water you drink. Politics affects you at home, at work, in your child's school and in local business.
Political analysts now are suggesting that the Democratic Party failures in 2016 are rooted in dropping the ball locally, in forgetting about grassroots development and local politics. Victoria's difficulties with voter turnout, identifying local candidates for office and recruiting campaign volunteers gives credence to this analysis.
Since we are making New Year's resolutions, I propose that in 2017, we each put a political item on the list. Register to vote. Name your local representatives. Attend a meeting. Some of you can up your game by visiting your councilman or running for office.
In 2018, there will be several very important positions up for grabs on City Council, County Commissioner's Court and the VISD School Board. These are powerful positions, able, in many cases, to hire and fire and set policies affecting your taxes, your safety, your streets and your home life.
Maybe you are more drawn to statewide issues since Tuesday, Jan. 10, marks the opening of the 85th Texas Legislative Session. These sessions occur only every other year and last 140 days, during which legislators will attempt to do justice to hundreds of bills about an ungodly number of issues. Informing yourself about proposed bills that you care about will give you confidence as you prepare for the 2018 election of a governor, senator and other state and federal races.
During these hectic sessions, anything you do to draw a legislator's attention to a particular bill can carry great weight. A good resolution could involve looking up bills relating to issues you already care about: wildlife, child abuse, school funding, state parks, regulation of businesses. The state has made it easy and almost fun by providing TLO - Texas Legislature Online. This site enables you to find proposed bills and create a custom list of bills you want to follow. This triggers alerts regarding those bills. Easy and fun, right?
Recently, as described in a Victoria Advocate article, a state representative wrote a bill because she realized she was receiving a number of phone calls about the issue. A "number" of calls, not thousands of calls or even hundreds, just enough to catch her attention. That's how this works. You elect a representative, you call them frequently about your concerns, and maybe, they sponsor bills that address your issues. As the old saying goes, stand for something or you will stand for nothing. We can do it together.
Finally, the opportunity has come up to share some thoughts about the mechanics of an election. The experience of voting is the key to voters continuing to show up at the polls. Long lines, balky machines and rude poll workers erode trust in the process and discourages participation in what should be the most joyful experience a patriot can have: voting.
For close to 25 years, Victoria has enjoyed positive voting experiences thanks to election administrator George Matthews. He has gotten us through six presidential and seven gubernatorial elections cycles with a small staff, hundreds of well-trained poll workers and some old, cranky electronics.
In December, after shepherding us through the biggest election turnout ever, Matthews was invited to retire. Circumventing the Victoria County Elections Committee, which they have the power to do, the County Commissioners decided to eliminate the election administrator's position and have other departments absorb its functions.
It is my strong opinion that the independent nonpartisan position of election administrator is too important to be assumed by people who already have a full plate serving the county. We are already losing a wealth of expertise with the removal of Matthews. Going forward without a dedicated election administrator when regulations keep changing and we rely more and more on technical equipment is short sighted. Any cost savings achieved by eliminating this position will be lost by having inexperienced personnel in charge.
I'm sure all of you who have had the opportunity to work with Matthews join me in saying thank you for his many years of behind the scenes dedication and his love of all things Victoria.
Pat Tally is the chairwoman of the Victoria County Democratic Party. Before retiring to Victoria, she was the director of a clinical social work department in a large Dallas hospital system for 22 years. She may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.