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Empire editorial: Civic responsibility doesn't stop at the ballot box

Posted: August 22, 2013 - 12:09am

Each year, scores of Juneau residents make their way to the polls and leave with a badge of honor.

“I Voted Today,” reads the iconic blue and gold sticker that poll volunteers hand out to each voter. When the sticker is taken off at the end of the day and tossed into the trash, are Juneau residents still committed to engaging in the democratic process?

There’s a saying that’s popular during elections: “If you don’t vote, don’t complain.”

Ask any city beat reporter in the country how often members of the public show up to public hearings, board meetings and city council meetings and you’ll understand just how little we participate in the most basic and important form of government.

Thirty-two percent of Juneau’s registered voters participated in last year’s local elections. About 55 percent of registered voters participated in last year’s statewide election. While both of those numbers are disappointing, what’s worse is when voters don’t get involved with the leaders they’ve elected.

Local government deals with issues everyday that affect you and your neighbors directly. Does it often take too long for your street to be plowed after a heavy snow? Show up to a Public Works and Facilities Committee meeting. Are you concerned about the cost of a project? Talk to the Finance Committee. Has your search for a place to live in Juneau been long and grueling? Share your experience with the Affordable Housing Commission. Not getting any results? Call your hometown newspaper, show up to an public meeting or start a letter-writing campaign.

Are you fed up? Run for office.

We recently reported the shortlist of Juneau candidates who have filed for this year’s municipal election. Of the five seats up for re-election, only one is contested. Incumbents are seeking the other four seats — two on the school board and two on the Assembly.

Many communities in Alaska and across the country struggle to fill local government seats. In Unalaska, seats on the school board and the city council are all uncontested for their upcoming elections. Kodiak Mayor Jerome Selby recently announced that he won’t run for re-election after 24 years in office. Assemblyman Jerrol Friend is running unopposed for the office.

There is a problem with this picture.

We don’t take issue with candidates running unopposed; we’re grateful for those willing to take up the challenge of public office. However, democracy is best served when citizens engage in vigorous debate and embrace diverse viewpoints.

Certainly, there are more people out there who care about the future of Juneau and of Alaska. We know you exist; we read your comments and emails every day.

There is room for everyone in a democracy. Claim your seat at the table and make your voice heard.

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