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Helping to restore trust in the word “politician”

[ Return To Senator Roy Dyson's Newsletter ]

Posted on January 23, 2003:

Senator Dyson Somewhere along the line, the word “politician” became a negative word. Watergate and President Nixon’s resignation and President Clinton’s impeachment nearly 25 years later haven’t helped the image of the profession. Political scandals have led to cynicism among the general public -- mainly among our teenagers and twentysomethings and are great fodder for a Jay Leno or David Letterman daily joke.

I can take the jokes, because they are funny. What is not funny, however is the fact that young potential voters are choosing not to register or not to exercise one of our most precious and fundamental Constitutional rights -- the right to vote in a free election.

I made a trip to a local store one day and asked each of the young workers -- all of voting age if they are registered to vote. Most said they weren’t and didn’t care to. Those who were said they had no plans to vote. It was a waste of their time.

State legislators nationwide have taken notice of this voter discontent. That is why I am enthusiastically participating in a national program sponsored by the National Conference of State Legislatures called “America’s Legislator’s Back to School Week.”

The program encourages state lawmakers to promote civic participation among our voting eligible youths.

A poll of 18- to 24-year olds conducted by the National Association of Secretaries of State indicates that more than 50 percent say “You can’t trust politicians because they are dishonest.” Two-thirds say, “My generation’s voice is important, but no one is listening. Nine out of 10 agree with the statement, “A few big interests run the government.

Achievement in civics classes is alarming. More than 75 percent of fourth, eighth and 12th graders fell below the proficient level in civics in a 1998 national test, according to a report filed by the National Assessment of Education Progress. Only 11 percent of the high school seniors have more than a basic knowledge of U.S. history, according to a 2002 national test by the same respected organization.

As a public servant or “politician” for nearly 25 years, I can only say that this is disheartening at the very least.

The NCSL’s America’s Legislators Back to School Week is intended to stop this extraordinary bleeding. While political scandals make for good news copy, most “politicians” I know care deeply about the concerns of their constituents and work extremely hard on their behalf.

I plan to visit as many schools as possible in Calvert, Charles and St. Mary ’s in the coming weeks to promote this program which is designed to teach students what it takes to be an effective and caring state legislator for all people. Basically, we want to put children, teens and young college students in the shoes of a lawmaker and tell them what we do for a living. We give them a living, breathing, non-textbook look at the legislative process.

I’ve already begun to do just that. On the first day of school August 26, I boarded a school bus brimming with eager students ready for another year of learning. The students initially wondered why I was on the bus. I explained who I was and what I did for them.

I’ve been fortunate over the years to receive kind words from Presidents Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Clinton. I’ve also received numerous other awards during my career. But I’ll tell you, as much as those kind words from world leaders and worthy plaques and proclamations from organizations mean to me, I received a compliment from a student who I rode the bus with August 26 which stands above all else.

The student said: “You’re cool.”

[ Return To Senator Roy Dyson's Newsletter ]

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