Peterson: Your final endorsement
Any journalist anywhere knows that getting readers to care about things that are essential to their community is easier said than done.
Staying alert at sparsely attended public meetings to see how taxpayers’ money is being spent and holding power to account is a hallmark of community journalism. And yet, most people would rather be smacked with a pillowcase full of soap bars than be bothered to care about things such as zoning regulations, public health, bonding or what goes on with the local school board.
At least, until a development goes up in their backyard, or a road project clogs up their daily commute, or a once-in-a-century pandemic drastically alters their lives.
Want proof that COVID-19 has turned the world upside down? Look no further than the intense public interest these past 21 months in public health departments and local school boards, which have become ground zero in the national culture wars over masking, vaccinations, racial equity and gender identity.
Make no mistake — there wasn’t a local issue that drew more interest or attracted more scrutiny than the contests for five seats on the Eagle County Schools Board of Education in this most recent election. You want to talk about wedge issues? The fight over who should set policy for a nonpartisan board turned highly political — mirroring a national trend — and pushed us to the edges as a community.
The money poured in, as did the letters to the editor, the guest columns and Facebook diatribes in an emotional fight that boiled down to this: Who is best prepared to make decisions when it comes to the education and well-being of our kids?
To which I say, it’s about damn time people cared about the local school board. Ditto for public health departments, or any other public board, elected seat or taxpayer-funded entity.
If there’s a silver lining for journalists in this pandemic that has gutted newsrooms, it might be this: Citizens are finally engaged in things that they couldn’t have cared less about two years ago. Most of those things are the boards and elected seats that journalists spend their careers covering to inform you, the reader.
Seriously, is there any doubt that some of these folks who have been screaming about public health orders and masking these past two years even knew what a public health department was or what it did before 2020? Or, for that matter, that their tax dollars were funding the salaries of the officials who have studied and trained their whole lives for this very thing?
While the increasing nastiness of our politics when it comes to masking, vaccines and public health is sickening, you’ll never catch me saying that more civic engagement is a bad thing. In this great American experiment of ours, political apathy is a cop out. As the cliché goes: Half of life is just showing up.
You should care about every single issue and every single candidate on your ballot, especially the local races or issues where your choices carry lot more weight among a few thousand votes compared to a few million.
And, seriously, enough with the whining over Ballot Issue IA. Saying the lawyerly ballot language confused you on a question that you had nearly a month to pore over and research isn’t a valid excuse for saying you were duped.
If you wanted to know what the question was asking, you could have read the Vail Daily’s two explainers on the issue, or the editorial we wrote coming out against the idea of giving county commissioners a third term or all the letters and columns that ran.
This was a test where the answers to your questions were all right there — in the back of the book. So don’t blame the county attorney who crafted the question or the commissioners who signed off on it. Just because you were too lazy to do your research doesn’t mean you get to cry about “deception” when you don’t like the outcome.
And, really, would you feel the same way if it were three Republican commissioners asking for a third term? If you want to impose term limits, vote the current commissioners out. It’s that simple.
This is all to say that elections have consequences. You want a final endorsement? That’s it. Don’t be a know-nothing. There’s way too many of those in the world anyway. Don’t let it be said about you that you were confused about what you voted for when you didn’t bother to do your homework. Don’t be that person who hangs out on Facebook all day and injects nonsense under stories you didn’t even bother to read.
And, lastly, don’t be a passive observer in your community. If you want to know what’s going on, who’s making decisions in your backyard, where your taxpayer dollars are going or where you can find reliable information to help you make decisions on how to vote, you don’t have to look very hard. We’ll be watching those public meetings, keeping notes, and asking questions afterward — like we always have.
Nate Peterson is the editor of the Vail Daily. Email him at email@example.com.