OK, so I confess that I've never really understood the intersection between city & county, and what with all the "mean girls" talk when Diane Linn was chairwoman, I kind of checked out. But now it's a new era, right? So clearly it's time to check back in, know who's who, and who's doing what (to whom?). And how's that Ted Wheeler guy doing, anyway?
Well. Since you asked...
Who Runs the Place? The Board of Commissioners. One thing that's important to know is how the five commissioners are elected. The chair, now Ted Wheeler, is elected 'at large,' meaning that everyone in the county votes for that position. The other four commissioners represent districts, so you only elect the person who represents your district. It's a non-partisan election (just like Portland city hall) and they can serve up to two four-year terms. Don't know what district you're in? You're not alone!
Once you know your district and your commissioner, you can step it up a notch and visit the web sites of both your commissioner and the chair to see what they're up to and get on their e-mail lists. They all state their priorities - are they the same as yours???
They meet every Thursday from 9:30 to Noon @ 501 SE Hawthorne. If you want to be there but can't (something on the agenda caught your eye), you can catch the action on TV at a more convenient time and location (your house!). Times are: Th, 9:30 AM, (LIVE) Channel 30; Sat, 10 AM, Channel 29; Sun, 11 AM, Channel 30; Tu, 8:15 PM, Channel 29. Give it a whirl, it can't be as dull as C-SPAN!
Ready to Jump In?? Get on the Citizen Involvement Committee. They are seeking new members. I wonder how many parents with young children are currently serving to get that important uM perspective in the mix?
You remember: "I'm just a bill, yes I'm only a bill, and I'm sitting here on Capitol Hill." True, the days of Schoolhouse Rock are long gone, but the need to understand the legislative process remains. If you want to change the law (oh, and I do), you've got to understand how laws are made so you can get in there when the gettin's good, so you know who to call or write or visit - and when.
Once you know about a bill, you need its number (depending on whether it's in the House or Senate, it starts with a S. or H.R.). When you're armed with that tedious info, you can head straight for Thomas (named for Thomas Jefferson, this system provides legislative info from the Library of Congress). Thomas'll tell you everything there is to know about that bill (that's public, anyway).
You'll know who the co-sponsors are, where it is in the lawmaking process (what committee), the full text, the Congressional Research Service summary (great synopsis for busy mamas). It's important to know what committee it's in or headed to so you know which legislators to contact. Contacting yours is always a good idea since s/he represents you, but branching out and contacting others who will influence the bill's outcome is important, and often a more direct way to impact legislation.
Of course you can visit the main House or Senate web pages, they are chock full - but can be overwhelming if you're searching for something in particular. The Senate has an easy-to-navigate Active Legislation page where you can browse by topic rather than bill number.
Feed it to me. And, if you're looking for the easy way, as I am, just let the info come to you. Yes, mamas, Congress has a feed! Once you know your bill number(s), you can sign up on GovTrack to get e-mail updates anytime it makes a move. This is a perfect example of how technology can support democracy - we love it! If you want to give it a whirl, try H.R. 2236, the Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2007. You can also track specific committees, legislators, you name it. Just like any other feed, it takes a few minutes to set it up, but then it's autopilot.
Am I missing anything? Having never worked in the halls of Congress, I probably am. Any urbanMamas or Papas out there with anything to add? Correct? Inside scoop? Do tell.
November 6 is right around the corner, and October 16th is even closer. That's the last day for new Oregon voters to register. So, if you're a new mamagonian, hop on it! The Multnomah County Department of Elections runs the show. You can do most anything related to voting on its web site (except actually vote), from registering or changing your address to locating drop boxes and reading ballot measure info. You can also download the voters' guide from its site, and learn about volunteering around elections, too. There's a FAQ that covers most any question you could possibly have about voting in Oregon. And if you just aren't sure if you are, in fact, registered, call the county at (503) 988-3270 - they know.
But the thing that I've wondered since moving here is whether the vote by mail system has increased turnout. I miss the hoopla around the voting booth, in a nostalgic kind of way, but if some other system is cheaper and increases voting rates, I'm all for it. Oregon was the first state to ditch the booth, going postal (so to speak) in 1998. A quick look on Wikipedia tells me that, not surprisingly, some see it as an improvement, some don't. Our early switch has been useful in assessing the option, a good example of why the state-as-policy-incubator concept works.
Waddya you think? Do you miss pulling the lever? Find the Pioneer Square drop box as convenient as I do at lunch on election day? Ever worry when you mail your ballot that it'll never get anywhere near the counting room?
And, since we are Activistas, after all, you're probably asking yourself how you can get in here and help, right? Well, thanks to Kristin for hatching the idea to invite Activistas to help other urbanMamas & Papas vote by picking up and delivering ballots to drop boxes on election day for those among us who just can't get there by 8 PM (2 sleeping children and your partner out of town...; just plain forgot to open the thing and it's 7 PM already, among the other 100 reasons I can think of). So, if you need the help, type your plea in the comments section on election day and we'll be checking regularly to see who we can help. Does this sound do-able, mamas? Ideas for fine-tuning? Do tell.
I admit that it took me a few years. But I now know my state legislator, get his handy e-mail updates and even found a kid-friendly way to volunteer for him. My 4-year old and I delivered flyers to neighborhood homes announcing a "meet the rep " coffee hour. He had a ball and I actually felt involved.
Who represents you in Salem?Ben Cannon represents me (and everyone else in the 46th District) in the House. Besides the fact that I think he's smart (former Rhodes Scholar), did a great job in Salem his first term, and works really, really hard to communicate with his constituents, he and his wife had their first baby this summer, so HE'S A NEW PARENT. How perfect is that? As for the Senate, my Senator Avel Gordly is leaving the legislature after a long service there, so I'll be paying close attention to the election for her seat. Once I find out when it is...
Even though the legislature's not currently in session (it convenes every two years and the most recent session ended in June), you can still get acquainted with your representatives by learning their names (for starters!), checking out their web sites, signing up for e-alerts and newsletters, etc... The Legislature's official web page has a super easy tool to locate your representatives, all you need is your address. And, if your kids are ready to learn about the legislative process, there's a kids page. Go ahead, start 'em, young.
Have you contacted your state legislator? Attended any town hall meetings? What'd you think? Any luck? Hope? Stellar representatives out there? Got advice for urbanMamas new to all this?
The folks in Salem represent us. If they hear from their Mamastituents, they'll know just what we want.