Several months have passed since the November 5th elections, and now the time has come for citizens to perform one of their most important duties, which is to remain engaged and pay close attention to the performance of our elected leaders.
Unfortunately, the civic engagement of many voters starts at the beginning of the campaign season and ends on Election Day, which means that elected officials can opt to take the easy road and neglect the promises they made to get elected.
Throughout their campaigns, candidates who run for office carefully hone their messages, putting together the most persuasive messages possible. They focus on showcasing their experience and skills to the voters. Sometimes they overpromise, thinking this will get them elected. One of the important responsibilities of citizens is to pay close attention to the performance of newly elected officials and hold them accountable for their campaign promises.
The act of choosing leaders is the most powerful duty of citizens. We choose our leaders and then delegate to them the great responsibility of stewardship of our public resources for the sole benefit of the public interest. In a democracy, the people have the right and power to choose the candidates they feel are best qualified to lead them. But it is imperative that citizens stay in touch with elected officials after the dust has settled and push them to seek solutions to Maine’s problems.
Maine’s demographics are a challenge that many candidates talked about on the campaign trail. Maine is aging, and her labor force is shrinking. We need to ask our elected officials what they are doing about this serious issue, and push them to come up with both short- and long-term strategies, on local and state levels, for retaining our young people, many of whom currently feel they have to go out of state to seek a good life.
Affordable housing is another serious issue in Maine, and people should ask our officials what they are doing to address it. Every day, people make critical decisions about whether to eat or to pay rent; they are afraid of losing their shelter and, as a result, rent becomes the number one priority. The saying goes, “Rent eats first.” Again, many candidates talked about the issue of affordable housing when running for office. We need to make sure they work hard to solve this issue as quickly as possible.
In recent years, we have seen an increased number of immigrants coming to Maine from Africa. These immigrants are able and ready to work, but the process of getting work permits takes months, and even years. During this wait time, these New Mainers have no recourse but to rely on social assistance. People in Maine should pressure our elected officials in Washington to prioritize efforts to shorten the wait time for new immigrants applying for work permits.
So even though the sounds from campaign ads on TV and the steady stream of political rhetoric on social media have faded away, the work of citizens is not done. Although campaign posters and billboards have been pulled down from public places, and people have congratulated those who were elected and wished them success, we must hold our leaders accountable for their promises. The voters, in effect, hire elected officials – and therefore have a duty to follow through by evaluating them. We must remind our leaders what the public cares about and share our opinions about how these concerns can be addressed. Civic engagement should be a daily activity of each and every citizen.