I’d like to start off this post with a little confession: I am often “out of the loop” when it comes to local and state politics. Ask me about something the town, county, or state is considering doing, or what’s going on in the local party, and I may give you a blank look. Embarrassing, I know, since I’m considered to be a fairly well-informed political blogger, but there it is. It’s not on purpose, it’s just a function of my job. When you spend 6 months of the year “out in the middle of nowhere,” it’s not conducive to keeping up with what’s going on. During the rest of the year I get back into it, and yes, I do pay attention. It’s just during that gap (which also accounts for my lack of blog posts) that I’m going to be relatively “clueless.” Having said that, there are times when I see something that makes me wonder “Just where have you been?”
One of those times was this month. In the most recent election here in New York, there were six propositions, amendments to the state constitution, on the ballot. In the local weekly, there was a letter to the editor advocating against all the propositions because:
We urge voters to take time to read them; and not summaries only. There has been no public debate and the facts are hidden deep within.
The question we need to ask is can we trust our elected officials in Albany? Please vote no on all six amendments.
Aside from the rather paranoid distrust of elected officials, what struck me was the “no public debate” statement. My reaction was “Seriously? Where the hell have they been the past few years?” Why would I say that? It helps to know just how propositions like these makes it to the ballot. It’s not a sudden decision, it’s not because there was a big signature drive to get it on, and it definitely isn’t done “in secret.” Each time there’s something that has to be changed in the state constitution, even if it’s an obviously needed change, it has to go through a process. First, it has to be proposed. Various interested groups chime in with their changes, options, or opposition. Then it has to go through the legislature and be passed. The next year, it has to be passed again before it can make it onto the ballot. If there’s a lot of opposition in the intervening year, well, it dies. It’s a lot of work, a multi-year effort, and there’s a lot of discussion back-and-forth.
Let’s look at some of the propositions that were on the ballot this year. Proposition 1 was whether or not to allow for casino gambling in a certain number of areas. To my certain knowledge, this is a subject which has been debated for the past 15 years in this state, if not longer. Proposition 2 was non-controversial to begin with. Allowing for civil service credits to disabled veterans. The same for proposition 3, which was to extend the exclusion of sewer and water project bonds from the mandated debt limits for towns and cities. Proposition 4 was settling a century-long dispute over land titles, Proposition 5 was a swap of 200 acres of state land for 1500 acres of private land. Both had been debated ad nauseum around here, and had been “in the drafting stage” for years before being introduced. Proposition 6 was to change the retirement age for certain judges. It was the only one that lost.
Even though I spend months being “out of touch,” I still knew about these propositions. It wasn’t a matter of “trusting our elected officials in Albany,” or a lack of public discussion when it came to these. I get newsletters from my state legislators telling me these things, I get “action alerts” from various organizations, I do see newspapers, and I get into conversations around town when I’m here. It’s not like any of these appeared out of the blue or that I lacked any opportunity to make my opinion known.
Which is why I get annoyed with people like these letter writers. You don’t have to be a news junkie or a politics maven to be aware of what’s going on. If you want to know, all you have to do is pay a little attention now and then. Really, if you’re that unaware, you had to work at it, and the only one to blame is … yourself.