On October 3rd, the entire country learned through the historical removal of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy that just because you are members of the same party doesn’t mean you have likeminded views. The latest sticking point was that McCarthy had reached across the aisle in his quest to keep the Federal government open. Collaborating, coordinating and listening to those with different views and perspectives used to be commonplace, but today issues tend to be divisive. As we approach the General Election, imagine if you agreed to sit down with a member of the opposite party, not to counter their opinions, but to hear what they have to say. Or, even if you took time to sit down with a member of your own party, with your mind open to learning an additional viewpoint. This is the perspective of two local Democrats. You can read a Republican’s perspective here.
By Tara and Jeffery Oakman
Judging by lower turnout in the past, New Jerseyans seem to pay less attention to our off-year state and local elections than to the even-year federal ones. But this is truly unfortunate because it is these elections that shape our state’s leadership and how we together address the critical issues we face. More and more, whether because of dysfunction in DC or active choices by federal officials and courts, state and local government is where many of the public sector decisions that impact our lives are taking place.
Consider questions of housing affordability for example. If municipal leaders across New Jersey continue to zone only for large-lot, single family homes, then the smaller homes or apartments that are walkable to jobs and services and that can be more affordable choices for young people, small families, and seniors hoping to age in their communities, will remain literally illegal to build in many places. In Princeton, our local leaders have passed an accessible dwelling unit ordinance that is rare in New Jersey and serves as a model for other communities.
Or consider whether and how we respond to the threat of climate change. Many leaders of shore communities are trying to convince us that off-shore wind turbines – none of which have yet been built– are killing whales, when more likely what is killing whales are the same rising ocean temperatures that will eventually ensure those towns are completely underwater if we do not act now. Every municipality in New Jersey has to create a climate resilience plan, and we need thoughtful local leadership to do it, not people ready to accept any fossil fuel industry-funded junk science that is accompanied by campaign money.
And what about questions of public health? We learned in the COVID-19 pandemic that state and local leadership can make a huge difference in fostering trust and sharing reliable, evidence-based information that supports all of our health. And this isn’t just true in a global pandemic. In Princeton, our leaders work closely with schools to provide helpful resources and guidance to educators and provide trusted information to all of us about local environmental health threats or reliable retail food safety inspections. That is smart and deserves our support.
Last but not least, consider the fight we are in for democracy itself. Local government makes decisions about ballot design and the ease of early voting. State leaders ensure that elections are fair and transparent; or in some cases, they do the opposite. Senator Zwicker, who represents Princeton and is on the ballot this year, is a leader in New Jersey on election transparency issues. That matters, because increasingly, who leads us will determine whether we continue to get to decide who leads us in the future.
They say that if you don’t vote, you don’t have a right to complain. That is true, but there is much more at stake: if you don’t vote, you forfeit your voice in our collective future. They also say that in a democracy, we get the leadership we deserve. This year, let’s show up and prove that is true too.