At a time when civil discourse seems to have taken a backseat to divisive rhetoric and hyper-partisanship, it is critical for elected officials of good faith to speak out. That is why I have joined Snohomish County Councilmember Jared Mead at a series of town halls and classroom visits with students to talk about our roles as elected officials and to present an alternative to the divisive politics we see in the national media.
It is easy to become complacent and disengage from politics in light of the heightened tensions we see plastered across traditional media. Most individuals are more concerned about taking care of their families, leading a fulfilling life, and bettering their local community than engaging in what appears to be a fruitless endeavor in frustration. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
As local elected officials, we work on issues that don’t naturally lend themselves to the divisiveness of state and federal level politics. Despite running for partisan offices, County Councilmembers often work in a bipartisan, and often unanimous fashion to ensure public safety, maintain county roads, and improve recreational opportunities to name just a few areas.
We feel we have a unique ability — and I believe a responsibility — to engage with our communities in a way that shows a different side of politics and government. Councilmember Mead, a democrat, and I, a republican, have taken this opportunity to visit a number of high school classrooms over the past couple of months to share our thoughts on this topic.
I have been pleasantly surprised by the engagement of many of the students in these classes. What we often find at the beginning of the sessions is a perspective on politics that mirrors much of what you might expect from the general population. Students ask questions about why politics has become so nasty and how to change it. While we don’t have all the answers as to why it is the way it is, we are steadfast in our determination to be a part of changing it moving forward.
Councilmember Mead and I talk about how, despite our political differences, we have many things in common which helps us find common ground to work from. We are both relatively young elected officials and have recently become parents in the past couple of years. We want to help create the best future possible for our kids as they grow up.
Establishing a place like this to start from has helped us deliberate and find ways of working together. We recognize that even in the midst of policy disagreements, we can respect one another and work in good faith. I believe many of the students we have spoken to were able to come away from those sessions with a different look at politics than they had when we started. That is the goal.
It is my hope that by sharing our perspective and approach with more people, we can start to turn the tide on the perception of politics and encourage more people to engage in civil discourse. As more people find a productive way of participating in politics, I believe our political climate will greatly improve.
Nate Nehring is a member of the Snohomish County Council and represents District 1 which includes Arlington, Darrington, Granite Falls, Marysville, Stanwood, and unincorporated north county. He can be reached by email at Nate.Nehring@snoco.org or by phone at 425-512-4810.