Washington Post columnist David S. Broder quoted Rep. Marcus Oshiro in his column today on "Breaking through to Voters". Broder is covering the Council of State Governments - West meeting in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where Rep. Oshiro led a session on citizen alienation from government and politics, especially the apathy of younger generations. Here's an excerpt:
A reporter listening in on the session was struck by the sense that these legislators, a mix of Republicans and Democrats, express: that even though their districts are small in population and they are familiar figures locally, there is still a huge credibility problem for the governments of which they are a part.
"All of us are concerned about the loss of trust in government," Marcus Oshiro, a Hawaii state representative, said in launching the session. In many of these 13 Western states, participants said, government by ballot initiative has replaced the legislative process as the voters' favorite way to make laws.
They talked about how going door-to-door at election time or encouraging e-mails during legislative sessions can help bridge the gap between voters and elected officials. But nothing seems to eliminate the distrust.
And another excerpt on where the alienation may begin...
But barriers to communication remain. An Idaho legislator complained that the local superintendent of schools had barred him from visiting the high school, lest he politically indoctrinate the students.
And a teacher-legislator from that state said that too often, high schools teach students to distrust politics, because students quickly learn that the student councils they elect "are completely powerless" when it comes to setting policy.
The lesson, I think, is that young people respond when they are treated seriously -- and when their involvement in politics produces results that are real. Come to think of it, adults want the same things.