Friday June 5, 2015 – It’s Time to Begin
Hi. Welcome! I’m very glad you are here.
In 17 months and three days the United States is going to hold another Presidential election. There are already more than a dozen candidates lined up seeking the Republican or Democratic nominations for President in 2016 and there will be even more before the field begins to winnow next February. 34 of the 100 seats in the United States Senate will also be contested on November 8, 2016….it will be a pretty big day.
But I’ll bet I know what you’re thinking – so what! Why is that important now? If you aren’t tired of the candidates already (and you might well be) there will certainly be time to know way more about them than you want to…after the 4th of July, after Labor Day, after New Year’s. But here’s the thing, we need more time than you think. Because there will be another set of elections held on November 8th 2016…435 of them to be precise, and in an era in which the United States of America faces some of the biggest challenges in its history, we can’t afford to get these wrong…again.
I’ve already written almost 10,000 words about the challenges facing the next President of the United States and the 115th Congress that will begin their terms in 2017 so I will not write them again now. It’s an essay called Finding America and it’s both linked here and at the right of the menu bar at the top of the page. Although its a bit long in the age of the Web (my regular posts here will be much much shorter,) I think the piece makes some important points and, as we launch the Project to Find America, I wanted to begin by not only explaining my view of a few critical barriers to effective policy making in the U.S. government, but also offer some thoughts on how we can begin to fix them. If you have time this weekend I hope you will read it, forgive any creative use of grammar and typos and pass it along.
Most of the writing you will find here over the next several months will be quite different, however. You see, while I think the USA has a big problem, I think it is really the sum of thousands of little problems. Fortunately, the founding fathers of this country anticipated lots of little problems and designed the House of Representatives to bring varied viewpoints from across the nation to the political process. But if you were to watch the House in action today – or more specifically Tuesday the 9th when it is next in session, it would be understandable if you came to the conclusion that instead of 435 members of the House, we really only need six. Three to represent the majority party (the Republican party for the last five years,) two to represent the minority party and one to usually vote with the majority but go both ways in cases where a super majority is needed, overriding vetoes, for instance.
The system is designed, though, to have representatives vote for their district and address those thousands of little problems, not with the blanket solutions of a national political party and to have the people of those districts make sure that they do through elections every two years (instead of four…or six.) But for reasons that are covered at some length in Finding America, we haven’t been living up to our end of the bargain and thus Congress hasn’t either. But we need to start and that’s why we need more time to consider what will happen on November 8th 2016 and, I hope, in future election cycles afterward.
To live up to our end of the bargain we will need a few things. First and foremost, a belief that our political system can work better for all Americans. I know that many people have lost this faith in our government, but if you are one of them I ask you….how will our country’s challenges be met if not through our elected representatives? Are you in favor of some other type of government? Food for thought in the days leading up to the 4th of July. Second, armed with this belief, we need to take responsibility for participating in the political process. Can you imagine the firestorm were someone to suggest we not have open elections in this country? Then why did only 36% of Americans eligible to vote in the 2014 midterms actually do it? Finally, we need information. If you don’t know who your congressman is or what district you live in or where to get unbiased news coverage, you are among the vast majority of American people. That’s where this blog comes in.
Every day or so in this space, I will profile another congressional district. I’ll give you the basics: a map of the district, the larger cities and towns, the name of the current representative, etc. But the main focus of the blog will fall into two categories. The first is the set of issues confronting that district, anything I can find about potential solutions to them and whatever is being done or not done by Congress – both the local representative and others from districts with similar challenges, to address these issues. The most important issues are complex. I don’t pretend to have the background to know how to solve them, but I will try to highlight people who are willing to offer a solution instead of just criticizing others. As importantly, I will try to call out instances where I see impediments to progress. I am suggesting a basic set of behaviors we should all expect from Congress (and ourselves.) It is called the Voter’s Pledge. I hope you will take it and add your name to a petition that will be sent to every member of the House and Senate so as I’m writing about the district’s issues, I will also note behaviors that are out of line with these basic expectations.
But writing about problems all day long isn’t much fun and reading about them is worse. In fact, I would posit that the biggest reason most people don’t do anything about the hundreds of compelling, well-intentioned political causes and ideas the Internet lays at their doorstep each day, is that they just aren’t much fun to read or easy to identify with. Thus, crucially, the other primary, focus of the blog each day will be what’s great about these districts and why we should care about them – not just ours, but all 435 of them
You may remember a board game that was all the rage back in the day. The features of each district are certainly not trivial, but the categories presented in the game offer a pretty good frame to parse out the types of things that make each district unique and interesting.
During the course of research for the Project to Find America launch I visited lots of state tourism sites and noticed a trend I like a lot. Many states have come up with Trails that encourage visitors to go from place to place – suggested by a similar theme,. The most common of these are Food Trails (along with Craft Brewing, which I have say I think is pretty cool.) But there are trails for all kinds of things…Museums, Crafts, History, etc. So I’ve decided to use that concept here.
I will be introducing each district as part of one of six Trails: Parks & Nature, Arts & Culture, Commerce & Industry, Restaurants & Food, Sports Icons and Historical Sites. Every district has many facets and I will cover more than one in each profile, but I will lead off with something that, to me, seems to symbolize the district. I hope you will pick a trail, perhaps several that interest you and follow along as we look around this great country of ours. Who knows, maybe you will find these Trails useful on vacations this summer. Mostly, though I hope they are fun to read. We really do live in an amazing place, unlike anywhere else in the world. I hope that by reminding ourselves of that and celebrating that fact, it will make the work that each of us must do to reconnect with Congress and drive our nation forward easier to accept.
Thank you for coming, I hope you enjoy the blog and will get involved in the Project to Find America. Stay tuned for the first stop on the Arts & Culture trail this weekend.