In two days, Wallingford voters will have the opportunity to influence the government that has the most impact on their lives, that being, of course, their municipal government.
The cable news stations discuss little other than topics they deem of national significance. The Connecticut television stations center their political stories on state government. And who can blame them, given the state of state government.
Fortunately, we do have this newspaper to keep us informed about local government and to help us exert our influence over it. But the most important way that each and every resident 18 years or older can do that is to vote. There is no need to be local politics junkies like those of us in the Republican or Democratic Town Committees. After all, when it’s all said and done, each one of us has but one vote.
So I, like so many before me, am going to center an opinion piece around the need to get out and vote. And nothing I say here will probably sound any different from the dozens of opinion pieces you’ve read in the past urging that action.
But I would ask that you ponder this: what is it that makes up a strong community? And, as a corollary question, why do some communities have such strong, honest, and effective government, while others founder in waste and incompetence?
Strong communities become such because they have in their midst a healthy percentage of people who are engaged in helping their community prosper and grow. The members of a strong community know that they cannot leave it to someone else to make their community strong, that it becomes their responsibility in hundreds of small ways to make this happen. That is what happens in Wallingford. Hundreds of people are engaged in ways small and large to make a difference in one area of interest or another. All those individual efforts, taken together, define community.
As has been said many times in the past, we get the government that we deserve. In communities that are healthy, there is a strong diversity of opinions and ideas all centered around what is best for the community, and not what is best for the individuals involved in that government.
In all too many cities and towns, one political party becomes entrenched. When that happens, the needs of the community take a backseat to the needs of those who are in office. We don’t have to stray very far from Wallingford to see where that leads.
Fortunately, Wallingford does have two strong political parties, as well as several very strong, well-known “unaffiliated” leaders and a huge number of those who do not choose a party affiliation. And for the most part, I would say that everybody who gets involved does so to benefit the community. Yes, we may disagree with how the community will become stronger.
Yes, we will certainly disagree on who should be the leaders of that community. Sometimes the rhetoric gets heated. Sometimes the atmosphere at a given Town Council meeting can get, shall we say, slightly testy. But even then, what is the foundation of all the argument is how best to make our town prosperous and healthy. Or at least we can hope that is the case.
Underlying all of that is the foundation of voter participation. Those in the minority must always have the confidence that, at some given point, their points of view will prevail. The majority party must always know that the electorate is watching. The role of the minority is to challenge – respectfully, not reflexively – all elected officials to be focused on the needs of the community – and only those needs.
So now is the time, this coming Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., for all of us to assert our political strength, head to the polls and cast a ballot for those who we believe are best suited to reflect how our town government should be administered.
And additionally in Wallingford, we have the added responsibility of casting a yes or no vote regarding revisions to the Town Charter, the basic document governing the framework of our municipality.
The expression, “Decisions are made by those who show up,” has been attributed to dozens. I saw this credited to President Harry S Truman in a WAtoday.com.au article about declining voter participation rates in Western Australia, so I thought it was particularly appropriate that I use it in this column. For a publication located halfway around the world from Wallingford to use this idiom certainly indicates how powerful those words are.
So on Tuesday, please “show up.” All of us who live in town are depending on you to help Wallingford to continue to be that healthy and prosperous place we know it to be.
Stephen Knight is a fomer Wallingford town councilor.