The 2016 election season is finally over and much of the country's attention is on who will be filling Donald Trump's cabinet and the Supreme Court's vacant seat. There are a number of leaders, new and incumbent, to be sworn in at all levels of government besides the nation's highest, including officials at the state and local levels. There are many lessons to be learned from the 2016 election, and one is that civic engagement is necessary all the time — not just every four years.
President-elect Trump and his administration demand the utmost vigilance on the part of the American people, but the importance of state and local government cannot be forgotten along the way. For example, 12 states had gubernatorial elections this year. And while some of the results are encouraging, such as the election of Governor Kate Brown in Oregon, others are worrying, such as the election of Republican and former Microsoft executive Doug Burgum as governor of North Dakota, where he will be critical in resolving the conflict between supporters and protestors of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Here are some ways to keep tabs on your state and local politicians beyond elections years and stay involved with the issues that matter to you most:
1. Know Who They Are
There's no way you can keep an eye on someone you don't know of. So, the first step in staying politically engaged at the state and local levels is to simply look up who your state and local government representatives are. Senate.gov and house.gov are your best resources when it comes to knowing who represents you in Congress. Learning who represents you at the state and local level may require a Google search, but if you're interested in knowing what types of legislative changes the future will bring, the bit of extra research is worth it.
2. Follow Them On Social Media
It's safe to say that almost everyone working in politics today has either a Facebook or Twitter account, if not both. Politicians may not have you rushing to hit the follow button, but following your local elected officials on social media is a great way to build civic awareness into the things you already do everyday, like scrolling through your timeline when you have nothing better to do. Politicians use their social media reach to promote the work they have done, are doing, and will do; and even if you don't agree with their viewpoints, knowing what they're up to means you will know when it's time to take action, whether that action be protesting, calling their offices, starting a petition, or showing up to your local governmental public meetings.
3. Pay Attention To Local Media
Staying on top of news through national and international media outlets is great, but they often can't give you a picture of what's happening in your community like local newspapers, magazines, and alt-weeklies can. Making a habit of reading local media if you don't already, especially those independent of giant media conglomerates, will open your eyes up to economic, environmental, and civil rights issues happening close to home. Really want to commit to supporting local news media? Invest in a newspaper subscription and help fund the efforts of investigative journalists in your area, many of whose jobs may become much harder after inauguration day.
4. Stay Informed Of Local Bills And Measures
Tracking bills and your representatives' activity on them is perhaps one of the most important ways to keep tabs on your local elected officials and government. But finding and staying on top of this information is not always easy. Most states have "bill tracker" tools that can be found through a simple google search, but not all are easy to navigate and use. Local news media usually talk about measures introduced into state and local legislature. It's not viable to think that you can keep track of every bill up for consideration in your area, but once you find one that matters to you, whether it be about reproductive rights, civil rights or environmental protection, keep tabs on that bill using google alerts or your state or local news organization's bill tracking application.
Politics isn't everyone's bag, but if your feelings on Nov. 9 inspired you to be more involved in the future, do at least one thing to increase your civic engagement now while your disappointment in American government is still fresh. With a little bit of effort, staying on top of national, state and local politics will become a habit, even if the issues you are passionate about aren't necessarily drawing headlines.