Government Day urges participation
BY PAT FARNELLI
Seniors from five Susquehanna County school districts got a glimpse of the democratic process Tuesday, as a panel of local officials shed some insight on running for office and governing on a local level.
The first Government Day was held by the League of Women Voters at Blue Ridge High School’s auditorium. High School Principal Matthew Nebzydoski congratulated the seniors on their imminent first election for which they would be eligible to vote. “Most of you are nearing your 18th birthday, or it may have already passed,” he said.
Moderator Julanne Skinner, past president of the League of Women Voters, reminded the students that you don’t have to be 18 to register to vote, but do have to reach your 18th birthday before you cast your first ballot.”
She introduced the League of Women Voters to the students, and explained how the organization reaches a consensus on issues, then develops policy petitions on important issues.
“Recently, when the state changed voting requirements to require IDs, the league intervened on the state level,” Skinner said.
“In the upcoming election in Susquehanna County, 183 candidates are running unopposed. 96 offices have no candidate on the ballot as of this date; only 27 offices, comprising less than 10 percent, have an opposing candidate,” she said.
On the panel sat the following local officials:
Sheriff Lance Benedict; Magisterial District Judge Suzanne Brainard, Clifford; Great Bend Borough Councilman Bret Jennings; former Susquehanna County Commissioner Gary Marcho; Oakland Twp. Supervisor Susan Rowe; and Montrose School Director Doug Wilcox.
The panel members briefly introduced themselves and explained how they got involved in local government. Often, the official shared facts about themselves that surprised the audience.
Judge Brainard told the group that she first ran for office when she was “only a couple of years older than all of you.”
I ran for auditor of Lenox Township, and that is where I started. Then, when the tax collector decided not to run for re-election, I ran for tax collector and served a couple of terms. Then I was appointed assistant chief clerk and later became chief clerk.
She was asked if it is necessary to be an attorney to be a judge, and said it was not. “You do have to pass an exam, but not until after you are elected,” she said.
Seniors came prepared with questions to pose to the officials.
Justin Cobb of Elk Lake had several questions prepared. To Rowe, he asked about her comment that on the township supervisor level, politics and party affiliation seldom come into play. “Are they ever an obstacle or issue?” he asked.
“I think (supervisors) are of the same mind, in that what is best for our township is what is most important,” Rowe answered. “We don’t always agree, but we share a mindset for what is best.”
Montrose teacher Joe Festa asked, “Do you think that antigovernment rhetoric is seeping down to the young people, in that they don’t want to be part of the problem…do you see a connection between hyper-partisan rhetoric and a decline in interest?”
Panel members urged students to go against the tide and get involved with local government.
Marcho, who was a county commissioner from 1984-1991 and again from 2000 to 2002, said, “They (other panel members) are asking you to vote. I am going to go a step farther and ask you to run for public office.”