Stand and deliver

Amid the excitement and buzz surrounding the upcoming election, Buncombe County’s voter rolls continue to grow. For many, this will be the first time they’ve ever voted. And thanks to the clamor and continued media blitz of the presidential campaigns, local voters may feel they know too much about those candidates—from their political careers to their personal lives to their favorite foods.

But while millions of dollars are being spent to win votes at the federal level, voters old and new must remember to give equal attention to the local races, which don’t enjoy the same visibility.

Yet this election’s importance to the future economic security, safety, education and health of Buncombe County’s children, youth and their families cannot be overstated. Decisions made at all levels of government, from the school board to the White House, will determine how our schools are staffed and funded; whether or not working families have access to affordable child care; whether resources are provided to help steer youth away from gang involvement or other criminal activity; and whether North Carolina can achieve the goal of giving every child and pregnant mother access to affordable health care.

Children First/Communities In Schools of Buncombe County works to shape public policy so it is responsive to the needs of the children, youth and families served by our Family Resource Center at Emma and our Project MARCH Learning Centers in the Pisgah View, Deaverview and Woodridge apartments.

We see firsthand the impact of public policy on people’s lives; we understand its power to help low-income children, youth and families access opportunities for success. Food stamps, child-care subsidies, public education, Medicaid, teen-pregnancy prevention, school-nutrition programs, N.C. Health Choice, public transportation and affordable housing provide innumerable benefits—and they’re all shaped by public policy.

Looking toward Election Day, we want to call voters’ attention to the local races that will most directly impact children: the Buncombe County Board of Education and Board of Commissioners, and the N.C. General Assembly. To this end, we have created and published a candidate survey. Although it’s by no means comprehensive, it does cover several important issues. The participating candidates’ responses are available on our Web site (www.childrenfirstbc.org)—just follow the links.

Additionally, Children First/CIS will partner with the League of Women Voters and other local nonprofits to present two free candidate forums: one covering the county-commissioner and board-chair races (Monday, Oct. 20), and another for the state legislative seats (Monday, Oct. 27). Both will be held at Randolph Learning Center in Asheville from 7 to 9 p.m.

We also encourage voters to download Action for Children North Carolina’s guide, “Who’s for Kids and Who’s JUST KIDDING?” from our Web site. It provides a concise overview of the needs of children in North Carolina and helps voters ask important, child-focused questions of the candidates seeking their vote—a great tool to bring along to the October forums.

This year, Buncombe County voters will have a chance to weigh in on 35 elective offices, including: president, governor, Court of Appeals judge, Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors and school board. Nonpartisan voter education that is focused on important policy issues often gets drowned out by the sound bites and campaign slogans. Our surveys and forums will cover only 11 of those 35 races. We must all take responsibility for finding reliable resources to educate ourselves and others before casting our ballots.

But we must also remember that a responsive democracy does not begin and end at the ballot box. Once our elected leaders have been sworn in, they must be held accountable to their campaign platforms and the needs of their constituents. Children First/CIS monitors child-related issues throughout the year at the local, state and national levels.

And if you’re not already doing advocacy work and don’t generally communicate with your elected leaders, we challenge you to get involved in 2008. More than 240 people subscribe to our e-mail Advocacy Updates to stay informed and take action on behalf of children, youth and their families. Join us in moving beyond the ballot box and promoting responsive leadership year round.

Candidates want to shake your hand before elections, but they need engaged, informed constituents to hold their hands while in office. Can you lend a hand?

[Parent and local nurse Pat Wallenborn is a longtime Children First/CIS board member who chairs the group’s Advocacy Committee.]

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