Last week we published a commentary by Molly Cox, until recently the longtime CEO of SA2020, headlined, I don’t have the luxury of being an ‘uninformed voter’. Actually, none of us can afford such a luxury, yet so many fail to realize the potential power of their uncast votes.
That’s the central reason a team of my colleagues here and talented friends in San Antonio’s creative community produced Local Gov 101: your roadmap to local government, an in-depth guide to local government. The intent is to help readers better understand the importance of city and county government, school boards, public utilities, and the many other tax-supported organizations in their lives.
Local Gov 101 was produced and then published on our website last week while I was absent and recovering from knee replacement surgery. A seat on the sidelines for several weeks only deepened my appreciation of the talented people who work here.
Have you read Local Gov 101? We hope you will read it, share it widely, and use it as a catalyst to become more civically engaged. If you value this resource, we also hope you will consider donating to become a member. Donations from readers like you sustain our work.
As a member-supported nonprofit media organization serving San Antonio, our mission calls for us to do more than report the news. We seek to inform and connect readers in ways that allow them to fully realize their 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 nation. Compare that to miserably low turnout in the recent May city elections and there you have the problem and challenge. Voters do not believe who serves as mayor, on the City Council, or on their local school board matters that much.
They are so wrong. Yet most registered voters are inadequately informed about the important role that local government and local elected officials play in their lives, so they opt out of participating.
My colleague Rick Casey recently took issue with a proposal put forth by Mayor Ron Nirenberg to address 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 turn out to vote for president or governor but can’t tell a district judge from a district attorney. Cox, on the other hand, believes there is a civic responsibility to grow voter turnout and literacy in local elections and that Nirenberg’s instincts are right.
I see the logic of both positions. Frankly, I am far more concerned at the moment by red-state Republican efforts to pass voter suppression laws. Gov. Greg Abbott has called a special session of the Texas Legislature for July 8 after his party’s initial effort to pass such a bill failed in the closing hours of the regular session. Ultimately, any laws restricting access to voting will make their way to the U.S. 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 House Speaker Dade Phelan say they are fixing a problem — voter fraud — that does not exist. Texas voters also oppose the new law allowing Texans to carry loaded guns without a permit. In neither case do the state’s top elected officials take their cue from the majority.
The best response to laws designed to discourage eligible voters, particularly inner-city minorities, is to redouble efforts to register people to vote, to help them understand the importance of all elections, and then get them to the polls.
That is a process that by law in Texas is supposed to start in our public schools when students turn 18 and become eligible to vote. District leaders have a legal obligation to try to register those students, but the responsibility is not taken as seriously as it should be. When was the last time you heard the state’s elected leaders encourage voter registration in Texas high schools?
We invite high school principals and teachers to take Local Gov 101 and use it to teach those students being encouraged to register to vote. It’s a roadmap to civic literacy that few can get at home or anywhere else on their own.
The challenge for the team at the San Antonio Report is how to keep the guide from gathering dust on the digital shelf. That’s where we need your help in sharing it via your own social media channels. Make sure every eligible voter in your family and network of friends gets a link or copy and gets registered to vote.
We also invite readers to ask us for help in navigating local government. What questions do you have that Local Gov 101 does not answer? How do you think we can expand the guide to make it more useful? Reach me at email@example.com with your questions or suggestions.
Early in the then-Rivard Report’s civic engagement gatherings, at a local candidate debate at the Alamo Brewery on the East Side, a young professional approached me afterward to introduce herself as a new arrival from out of state and an enthusiastic reader who had used our site to pick her new neighborhood, Lavaca, and to make new friends.
“How come the county judge never wears a robe or is in a courtroom, yet he gets so much attention from you guys?” she asked innocently. It was an “aha” moment for me, as I realized she was rightfully confused by the 19th-century nomenclature of county judge and commissioners court, titles that do nothing to tell newcomers that Nelson Wolff actually is Bexar County’s chief administrative officer with wide-ranging responsibilities and authority that extend beyond far beyond a courtroom.
It is answers to questions like hers that can turn interested but uninformed individuals into civically engaged citizens working to build a better city. So kudos 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 business team members Jenna Mallette, Laura Lopez, and Kassie Kelly all worked together on the project managed by Director of Development Katy Silva. They were ably assisted by Ana Ruiz, graphic designer; Kyle and Kody Anderson, copywriters; and Sonja Leix, web designer.