If you care about your community, make your voice heard – and vote

No matter who or what you support or oppose – be sure to register to vote 

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

No matter what you think of national – or even international – politics and their antics, complications and repercussions, a strong argument could be made that local politics are both more comprehensible and even more important.

I’ve been involved on a volunteer basis in local politics for many years. From supporting or opposing specific legislation or candidates to involvement with my local neighborhood council, opportunities are available for any person – of any age, background or even citizen ship to become engaged with our political atmosphere.

Voting is the right, if not prerogative, of any and every citizen.

We in Tacoma, as in past election cycles, have an abundance of solid candidates.

I have recently attended several forums with a focus on city council candidates.

Across the city, there are four districts that have active elections coming up.

To say that some are “better” candidates is true, though not terribly helpful.

Some have more experience (and are running for re-election), some have stronger and more solid visions for their communities.

Some were born and raised here, while some are relatively recent transplants.

I am a bit biased in thinking that those born and raised here have deeper roots and a wider base of community connections – and perhaps a more profound sense of the unique needs and character of Tacoma/Pierce County.

Until I listen to those candidates who have brought their own lived experience in very different contexts. Those candidates, for the most part, are here for a reason, and they too are driven by a vision of what Tacoma can, and could be.

Like our city itself, these candidates are in motion and have a sense of vision and identity – and a level of passion not always found in current office holders.

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At most of these forums the same issues emerge – safety, the economy and growth.

Side effects of these concerns impact us all. Whether it is traffic, commuting, homelessness or housing costs, there is no escape for most of us, and one of the few things we can all agree on is that each one of these local problems will only get worse in the future.

And if you study any of those issues you know that they will get far worse – and far more quickly that we can prepare for them.

Even if we agreed on strategies (which we rarely do), the problems facing us (like affordable housing or I-5 traffic) will increase – and become more complicated, if not intractable over time.

When it comes to housing, for example, Tacoma is committed to building a thousand new units a year for the next ten years.

As much as more housing is essential to the future of south Puget Sound, questions quickly emerge around location, cost and availability.

A variety of “incentives” (like tax abatements) are offered to developers (although one might wonder why one of the hottest real estate markets in the country needs them) and, as you might guess, some communities oppose such projects while others beg for them.

Housing, like any other social issue that impacts us all, will have no easy answers and exist – or become worse – precisely because previous administrations have not been able to resolve them.

According to one of the city council candidates the city of Tacoma is almost exactly split between home owners and renters.

As housing prices increase, home owners are at an advantage (thanks to growing equity) and renters (thanks to increasing and seemingly endless rent increases) and ever more disadvantaged.

As we have seen across our headlines in the past few years, more and more of those who cannot cope with ever-increasing rents because of age, disability or income, find themselves pushed out of the housing market entirely – and onto our streets.

Once on the streets, problems – and costs to every one of us – increase geometrically.

What was once a problem of cutting back spending to pay each month’s rent has now become a problem of  safety and survival.

And we all pay for it.

Personal (and public) hygiene and safety become inescapable and ever more intrusive.

Consider the last time you drove – or walked – through any urban area. How many tents, shelters or huddled figures have you passed by?

What neighborhood is immune from them?

Almost every neighborhood was just a few years ago.

Homelessness is not intractable, and it has not been a problem (even in Seattle) forever.

Homelessness is a barometer, a social indicator of our values and priorities.

Visible homelessness is the accumulated evidence of the failure of will – and policy.

These people did not appear out of thin air. According to most surveys, the vast majority grew up here, many of them work and many suffer from disabilities or mental illness and,  in a more civil society, should never  have been forced into homelessness.

I focus on this most visible – and threatening- of social issues to emphasize how important – if not crucial – your voice, your vote, your participation is as we address ever more demanding challenges in our community.

As I mentioned, we have many strong, solid and committed candidates running for office. Do a bit of homework, ask some pointed questions, contact your local representatives and, at the very least, vote.

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