Editorial: League helps aspiring politicians find their voice

Published: 3/23/2017 2:02:47 PM

It’s reassuring to see the new Franklin County chapter of the League of Women Voters has begun to dig into its work — although it is unfortunate this renewed interest in civic engagement comes in part from disappointment over November’s presidential election.

While the League’s goal is to educate the public generally about election issues and races at the local, state and national levels, the new chapter is beginning close to home.

The League’s first major public event, called “So you want to run for office ... Now what?” was held last Sunday. The event offered tips and information about running for town governments and school committees and what to do once elected.

Invited to share insights were former Buckland Selectboard member Cheryl Dukes, long-time Shelburne Selectboard member Joe Judd, Greenfield Town Councilor Rudy Renaud and former Greenfield School Committee member Francia Wisnewski — all of whom have seen plenty of action on the local government front.

The speakers discussed everything from why they decided to run to tips for dealing with angry constituents.

Greater involvement in and commitment to local communities may become more important in years to come due to the ascension of Donald Trump to the White House and of Republican conservatives in Congress. If Congress cuts back on funding that flows through the states now, it will put stress on all levels of government in Massachusetts, from Beacon Hill to Turners Falls.

Already, Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, sees his party’s Obamacare replacement draining at least $1.5 billion from the state’s first-in-the-nation universal health care program within five years, and undermining the state’s ability to provide near-universal coverage for its residents.

Addressing what may have inspired many local residents to coalesce around the new League chapter, the speakers cautioned against letting opposition to President Trump or his policies be the only reason for running in a local race.

Dukes said that works “for about five minutes,” but for people to be successful public servants, they have to have a genuine interest in helping people where they live.

That’s usually been the case in the small towns of Franklin County, where occasional anger over some local issue, like school mascot changes or big box development approvals, might trigger one-issue candidates to run for town office. But those candidates don’t usually last all that long. The people who stay the course are people like Joe Judd — who is wrapping up 21 years as selectman — who have their community’s broad interest at heart.

Panelists said public service can be rewarding, and being able to help solve people’s problems, no matter how small they seem, can have a big impact.

Another reason to engage in local politics, of course, is a different kind of long game filling the political pipeline that carries candidates to state or federal legislative jobs or into campaigns or political groups that can also influence policy — and hence our lives.

Either way, shaping your government requires work by committed citizens energized by groups like the League of Women Voters.

The Franklin County League was formed after the election as a way to create opportunities for political action for local women. It seems off to a good start, and we’re thankful for that.

Greenfield Recorder

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