Native Gov 101: Check your citizenship expertise

Last week we posted a comment from Molly Cox, who until recently was the longtime CEO of SA2020, entitled “I don’t have the luxury of being an“ uninformed voter ”. In fact, none of us can afford such a luxury, yet so many fail to realize the potential power of their non-cast votes.

That’s the main reason a team of my colleagues here and talented friends in San Antonio’s creative community created Local Gov 101: Your Local Government Roadmap, 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-funded organizations in their lives.

Local Gov 101 was created and then posted on our website last week while I was away and recovering from knee replacement surgery. A place on the sidelines for several weeks only deepened my appreciation for the talented people who work here.

Have you read Local Gov 101? We hope that you read it, pass it on and use it as a catalyst for more civic engagement. If you appreciate this resource, we also hope you consider making a donation to become a member. Donations from readers like you support our work.

Supported as a member As a nonprofit media organization serving San Antonio, our mission requires us to do more than just cover the news. We want to inform and connect readers in such a way that they can realize their full potential as citizens. This guide, which has been in the works for months and funded by a generous grant from the Sumners Foundation in Fort Worth, complements the many civic engagements we organize and present throughout the year. This is how we distinguish the San Antonio Report from other local media.

Check out the San Antonio Report Local Government Guide to learn more about the people and processes that affect daily life in San Antonio.

Everyone knows that President Joe Biden defeated former President Donald Trump in the November 2020 general election when a record number of registered voters showed up in Bexar County and across the state and across the country. Compare that to the pitifully low turnout in the last city elections in May and there you have the problem and the challenge. Voters don’t believe that it matters that much who sits as mayor, on the city council, or on their local school board.

You are so wrong. However, most of the registered voters are insufficiently informed about the important role local government and electoral officials play in their lives and therefore choose not to participate.

My colleague Rick Casey recently turned down a proposal from Mayor Ron Nirenberg to combat voter apathy in local elections by postponing them to November. Such a move, Casey argues, would put important local decisions in the hands of uninformed voters who vote for the president or governor, but cannot distinguish a district judge from a district attorney. Cox, on the other hand, believes there is a civic responsibility to increase voter turnout and literacy in local elections, and that Nirenberg’s instincts are correct.

I see the logic of both positions. In all fairness, I’m a lot more concerned right now about the efforts of Republicans in the Red States to pass voter suppression laws. Governor Greg Abbott has called a special session of the Texas Legislature for July 8th after his party’s initial efforts to pass such a law failed in the final hours of the regular session. Ultimately, any laws that restrict access to voting will go to the US Supreme Court to be crushed, but nothing is certain and such litigation often lasts for years.

Polls show Texas voters know Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House spokesman Dade Phelan say they are fixing a problem – voter fraud – that doesn’t exist. Texas voters are also against the new law that allows Texans to carry loaded guns without authorization. In no case do the highest elected representatives of the state orientate themselves towards the majority.

The best response to laws designed to deter voters, especially inner-city minorities, is to redouble efforts to register voters, teach them the importance of all elections, and then get them to the polls.

This is a process that by law in Texas should begin in our public schools when students turn 18 and are eligible to vote. District leaders are required by law to enroll these students, but the responsibility is not taken as seriously as it should be. When was the last time you heard elected heads of state promote voter registration in Texas high schools?

We invite principals and teachers to take Local Gov 101 and use it to teach students who are encouraged to register to vote. It is a roadmap for civic literacy that few can accomplish alone at home or elsewhere.

The challenge for the San Antonio Report team is to keep the guide from gathering dust on the digital shelf. Here we need your help to share it through your own social media channels. Make sure that every eligible voter in your family and friends receives a link or a copy and registers to vote.

We also invite readers to ask us for help navigating the local government. What questions do you have that Local Gov 101 doesn’t answer? How do you think we can expand the guide to make it more useful? If you have any questions or suggestions, please contact me at [email protected].

At the beginning of the civic engagement of the Rivard Report at the time, at a local candidate debate at the Alamo Brewery on the East Side, a young professional approached me to introduce herself as a newcomer from abroad and an enthusiastic reader who was interested in her new neighborhood Select Lavaca and make new friends.

“How is it that the district judge never wears a robe or sits in a courtroom and still gets so much attention from you?” She asked innocently. It was an aha moment for me when I realized that the nomenclature of the District Judge and Commissioners Court from the 19th Titles that don’t tell newcomers that Nelson Wolff is, in fact, the Chief Administrative Officer of Bexar County with far-reaching responsibilities and powers that extend well beyond a courtroom.

They are answers to questions like yours that can turn interested but uninformed individuals into civic citizens who work for 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 led by Development Manager Katy Silva. They were competently supported by Ana Ruiz, graphic designer; Kyle and Kody Anderson, copywriters; and Sonja Leix, web designer.