Loran Joseph: As a voter, you're never out of power

When you bring someone into power, make sure they’re using that power well by reminding them that you are still engaged and following their actions.

Formerly the Mayor of Baker City, now just a wind farm owner/operator, audio engineer, bass player, woodworker, barista, entrepreneur, and general repairman.

During my time in office as the Mayor of The City of Baker City (last time I’ll mention it, I promise) there was always a nagging thought in the back of my head wondering where all my predecessors were and how come they weren’t pestering me with advice every meeting? “I’ll stay involved” I thought to myself, “I can still help.” Well now that I’ve turned over the gavel everything is a little clearer. 

The investment of time and energy into the job takes a toll, and educating newcomers to city politics over and over isn’t my cup of tea. It’s incredibly frustrating watching people make the same mistakes you made; maybe this lack of involvement from former officials, myself included, can all be explained by the old idea that the best lessons are learned the hard way.

That justification is more of an excuse, than an explanation, though. There is too much at stake to opt out completely; my family’s livelihood and quality of life is directly tied to the prosperity of our town. Politics would be a lot more fun to follow if the real world consequences weren’t so very real and present. Much like an episode of Veep, we’d rather laugh at the shenanigans our elected officials get themselves into instead of worry ourselves awake at night over the potential impacts to our jobs and homes.

So what does my new role look like? How can I best help the council and all the elected officials that are representing me and my interests? The best answer I can come up with is to hold them accountable: make them justify every decision with public testimony, evidence, and precedent. I know what it is like to have every action questioned and in my case, it led to well formulated plans and better choices. Importantly, this isn’t just the duty of the former Mayor; it’s a responsibility we all bear and are all capable of contributing to. 

This duty becomes doubly important when it is someone you voted for or a member of the same political party. In other words, your ability to hold truth to power is even greater when you’re tied to or responsible for the person wielding that power. 

We have a habit as humans to only accept information that supports our existing worldview, and justify our actions without admitting we were wrong. Our two party political system exacerbates this tendency by building a brand and asking for your loyalty. Six states even offer a “straight-ticket” option to just blindly fill in every bubble with a vote for your party’s candidate.

The more “us good, them bad” our political situation gets the less competent our leaders have to be. Why bother doing the hard work when successful campaigns are run on fear of the other? This all goes to show that when one of “your own” challenges you on an idea, you, as an elected official, are electorally and personally more motivated to listen.

It is difficult, but necessary, for us to acknowledge the faults of those we voted for. Every time we make an excuse for or ignore bad behavior or poor decisions we demean the very institution we are trying to protect. We also take power away from our critiques of those we didn’t vote for. How can our criticisms be taken seriously when we won’t take theirs seriously? This needn’t be a call for resignation, simply calling for explanation or justification can be an effective method of challenging our elected officials.

Could we create a better system? An open primary or ranked choice voting? These are great discussions that need to be had, however I’m just here today asking my fellow Oregonians to unironically be better

To those in elected office, remember that your constituency does not begin and end with the voting seasons and that your constituents are distinct from your supporters.

To those voting people into power, know that your vote does carry a lot of sway, especially in local elections. So when you bring someone into power, make sure they’re using that power well by reminding them that you are still engaged and following their actions. Voting is a right and a responsibility. We talk a lot about the right, but too little about the responsibility to follow up on that vote by making sure it was truly for the best candidate.

So here’s to being better: officials better explaining how and why they're making tough calls and voters better monitoring and examining the actions and justifications of their government.

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