Guest Editorial | The reasons for elected officials’ actions goes more than skin-deep | Richard Elfers

The first clue to find out what is going on in local government is to come to council meetings on a regular basis, at least until you understand the personalities, perspectives and agendas of the various council members. Watching the program on television at home can give you some clues, but actually observing body and facial language and tone of voice can give you deeper understanding. Much of that can only be gained by actually being in the room.

What politicians say and what politicians mean are often two different things. Only experience will help you distinguish them.

How can you understand what’s going on in government? Whether you realize it or not, there are really at least two levels of interaction going on: What the public sees, hears, and reads about and what else is taking place just under the surface. How can the public understand the beneath-the-surface level? It is actually possible to understand if you look for certain clues. I speak from experience because I served on the Enumclaw City Council for four years. I came to see the two levels clearly.

The first clue to find out what is going on in local government is to come to council meetings on a regular basis, at least until you understand the personalities, perspectives and agendas of the various council members. Watching the program on television at home can give you some clues, but actually observing body and facial language and tone of voice can give you deeper understanding. Much of that can only be gained by actually being in the room.

All of us deal with families and friends. We know there are two levels of interaction with any group or organization. Hopefully, we have learned how to read people, their intent and attitudes by dealing with their quirks and idiosyncrasies over time. The same is true of government bodies and elected officials.

A second way to find clues is by attending committee meetings. Observing there can shed light on the personalities and egos of elected officials. Because they speak more, they also reveal themselves more. Government officials are also less guarded in committee meetings when few if any of the public attend.

It is also important to understand that most of the issues the council deals with are complex. The best solutions are not an easy yes or no. Different interest groups add other perspectives that must be weighed before coming to a conclusion. That’s why the council has seven members, and legislatures have 100 or more. Diversity forces deeper discussion of issues.

If you ask yourself the question, “What are elected officials’ goals for being in government—Is it to serve or to be served? “ Another related question you might ponder: “Are they there for the money— the salary, the power?” In addition, “Is this position a stepping-stone for higher office?”

Once you get beyond local government (less than $4,000/year), income and perks from serving on a county council or in state and federal government can rise to about $42,000 for the state legislature to $174,000/year for a rank-and-file member of Congress.

On the national and international levels, researching a topic and reading books is what I do to prepare to teach my continuing education classes. By reading two or three books on a subject like the 2008 Great Recession I quickly see differing viewpoints, but also common threads and conclusions. The information is there if you search for it. Just remember to hold the information tentatively to see if other authors disagree.

Asking questions of reporters who write legislative or Congressional columns is an excellent way to get an idea of what’s going on. Their business is to report the news and to do this effectively they need to know the back-story; They will often tell you if you write them, or better yet, ask them personally if you can.

Asking former elected officials is also an excellent way to find out what is going on. That’s why I’m writing this column and subsequent articles for The Courier-Herald.

More in Opinion

Maybe it’s time Congress takes back its power

The Constitution gives Congress the most power of the three branches of government.

Poking dead things with sticks

They don’t mince words when they call it a “crawl space,” do they?

America is denying three hard truths

There are three major hard truths that our current government has been denying with great vigor: The Mueller Russia-U.S. Presidential election connection investigation, the war in Afghanistan, and the growing national deficit.

Promote the common good by ensuring individual liberty

Citizens following their passions and dreams improve the lot for all.

The three personas of President Trump

There’s Teleprompter Trump, Raw Meat Trump and Twitter Trump.

Attitudes change on farming non-native salmon

Their warnings fell on deaf ears, but the tables have turned on the fish farming industry in Washington.

Voting yes on levies means investing in our kids’ future

We are White River graduates. Our parents are White River graduates. Our siblings are White River graduates, and our kids will one day be White River graduates.

Voting for the levy with make a major #impact for our schools

I have four children in Enumclaw public schools and they all benefit from programs that are supported by the renewal of the operational levy.

Great schools mean great communities

As former elected School Board Member, State Legislator and King County Judge, we understand the importance of educating all children.

Political soap opera won’t end until midterm elections

Democrats and Republicans in Congress, as well as President Trump, have all taken gambles that will shape the November midterms.

A small act of kindness can make a big impact | SoHaPP

Join SoHaPP’s book group this February to discuss “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio. Don’t have the book? Check it out at the Enumclaw Library or visit The Sequel.

Vote ‘yes’ on replacement Education Programs levy

As a high school senior that has spent the entirety of my school life in Enumclaw, I know we have to take it upon ourselves to ensure the efficiency and inclusiveness of our school system.