Local governance 101: test your civic knowledge
Last week we posted a comment from Molly Cox, until recently longtime CEO of SA2020, titled: I don’t have the luxury of being an ‘uninformed voter’. In fact, none of us can afford such a luxury, and yet many fail to realize the potential power of their unexpressed votes.
This is the main reason why a team of my colleagues here and talented friends from San Antonio’s creative community have produced Local Gov 101: Your Roadmap for Local Government, a comprehensive guide to local government. The intention is to help readers better understand the importance of city and county government, school boards, utilities, and the many other tax-funded organizations in their lives.
Local Government 101 was produced and then posted on our website last week while I was away and recovering from knee replacement surgery. A seat on the sidelines for several weeks only deepened my appreciation for the talented people who work here.
Have you read Local Gov 101? We hope you read it, share it widely, and use it as a catalyst for further civic engagement. If you enjoy this resource, we also hope you will consider donate to become a member. Donations from readers like you support our work.
As a supported member A non-profit media organization serving San Antonio, our mission requires us to do more than report the news. We seek to inform and connect readers in a way that enables them to realize their full potential as citizens. This guide, months in the works and funded by a generous grant from the Sumners Foundation in Fort Worth, complements the many civic engagement events we organize and present throughout the year. It’s our way of distinguishing the San Antonio Report from other local media.
Everyone knows President Joe Biden defeated former President Donald Trump in the November 2020 general election when a record number of registered voters turned out in Bexar County and across the state and country . Compare that to the miserably low turnout in the recent municipal elections in May, and there you have the problem and the challenge. Voters do not believe that who is mayor, a member of city council or their local school board matters so much.
They are so wrong. Yet most registered voters are insufficiently informed about the important role that local government and elected officials play in their lives, so they choose not to participate.
My colleague Rick Casey recently challenged a proposal by Mayor Ron Nirenberg to tackle voter apathy in local elections by moving them to November. Such a move, Casey argues, would put important local decisions in the hands of uninformed voters who vote for president or governor, but cannot distinguish a district judge from a district attorney. Cox, on the other hand, believes that there is a civic responsibility to increase voter turnout and literacy in local elections and that Nirenberg’s instincts are right.
I see the logic of the two positions. Frankly, I’m much more concerned right now with the efforts of the Red State Republicans to pass voter suppression laws. Governor Greg Abbott called a special session of the Texas legislature for July 8 after his party’s initial failure to pass such a bill in the closing hours of regular session. Ultimately, any laws restricting voting access will make their way to the United States Supreme Court where they should be struck down, but nothing is certain and such legal battles often take years.
Polls show Texas voters know that Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker of the House Dade Phelan say they’re solving a problem – voter fraud – that doesn’t exist. Voters in Texas also oppose the new law allowing Texans to carry loaded guns without a license. In neither case do the senior elected officials of the state draw inspiration from the majority.
The best response to laws designed to discourage eligible voters, especially inner-city minorities, is to redouble efforts to get people on the electoral roll, to help them understand the importance of all elections, and then get them to the polls.
It’s a process that Texas law is supposed to begin in our public schools when students turn 18 and become eligible to vote. District leaders have a legal obligation to try to enroll these students, but the responsibility is not taken as seriously as it should be. When was the last time you heard from elected state leaders encourage voter registration in Texas high schools?
We urge high school principals and teachers to take Local Gov 101 and use it to teach students who are encouraged to register to vote. It is a roadmap to civic literacy that few people can achieve at home or elsewhere on their own.
The challenge for the San Antonio Report team is how to keep the guidebook from gathering dust on the digital shelf. This is where we need your help to share it through your own social media channels. Make sure every eligible voter in your family and friend network receives a link or copy and is registered to vote.
We also invite readers to ask us for help navigating local government. What questions do you have that Local Government 101 is not answering? How do you think we can extend the guide to make it more useful? Contact me at [email protected] with your questions or suggestions.
At the start of the civic engagement meetings of the then Rivard Report, during a debate of local candidates at the Alamo brewery on the East Side, a young professional approached me afterwards to introduce herself as a newcomer. arriving from out of state and an enthusiastic reader who had used our site to choose her new neighborhood, Lavaca, and make new friends.
“How come the county judge never wears a robe or is in a courtroom when he gets so much attention from you?” She asked innocently. It was an ‘aha’ moment for me, as I realized that she was rightly confused by the 19th century nomenclature of county judges and commissioners, headlines that do nothing to tell newcomers that Nelson Wolff is in fact the chief of Bexar County administrative director with sweeping responsibilities and authority that extend far beyond a courtroom.
These are answers to questions like hers that can transform interested but uninformed individuals into civically engaged citizens working to build a better city. So, well done to my colleagues here for producing Local Gov 101.
Credit where credit is due. reporters Iris Dimmick and Jackie Wang; editors JJ Velasquez, Wendy Lane Cook, Blanca Méndez and Clay Reeves; and members of the sales team Jenna Mallette, Laura Lopez and Kassie Kelly all worked together on the project managed by Director of Development Katy Silva. They were ably helped by Ana Ruiz, graphic designer; Kyle and Kody Anderson, editors; and Sonja leix, web designer.