Aug 242008
Authors: Dr. John A. Straayer

Inasmuch as we have thousands of new freshmen on campus, just recently released from some of the daily parental advice they’ve so often screened out, I figured there might be a “do as I say” gap to fill.

I thought, too, that since my kids screened out much of the advice I’ve offered, this might be a chance to have my “do as I say” bromides absorbed by other people’s children.

So do this: Register to vote.

We’re at war, we have a growing national deficit, the economy is weak, your presidents increasingly see emperors when they look in the mirror and you are going to have to live with the consequences.

Actually vote.

You can do it by mail, or in person. Lots of folks register, but stay home – duh.

Pay attention before you vote

Old folks Social Security and Medicare — you’re paying for it.

The war-you’ll be paying the mortgage as it comes due.

Transportation for the future-who will pay for it?

Future energy needs-do you want to walk and study in the dark and in the cold?

Free trade – cheap goods, more goods, lousy jobs, good jobs — good or bad idea? Got health insurance?

This ain’t playground stuff — you’ll be living with the results of elections and policy choices long after today’s “deciders” are taking dirt naps.

Vote the “down ballot”

Sure there are presidential candidates. We also have a 100-member state legislature, 535 elected members of Congress, a county commission and more.

Your Pell Grants, student loans, income tax rates? Congress writes the laws. College Opportunity Fund, tuition rates, financial aid?

Your state legislators write the script.

They also write the criminal code, but I trust that won’t impact too many of you.

Know who is on the “down ballot” and where they stand

Who is on the ballot and what their positions on issues of concern to you – assuming you know what you care about.

Colorado’s state fiscal policy is a mess.

Do you know how, or why, or the consequences, or what the candidates think about it and what they might do about it if they care?

Study the ballot measures

We’ve gone crazy in Colorado with ballot issues, drunk on direct democracy.

But like it or not, what is on the ballot matters and this November there will be roughly 19 legislatively-referred or citizen-initiated policy choices for us to make.

Get a state-issued “blue book” which provides a “quick and dirty ” short course on the ballot measured, read it and ask your state candidates where they stand on the issues.

Some will impact higher education.

Vote because you should

Will your vote make a difference?

No, because, with extremely rare exception, you will never participate in an election decided by a single vote.

Yes, because it is your civic duty-it’s a “values” issue.

And, anyhow, voting suggests that you do care some about governance and policy and if you care enough to vote you probably discuss issues with others and if you discuss issues with others you may impact the views of others.

There’s more to governance and politics than voting

Many critical choices are made by persons you cannot vote for directly.

These include members of your university Board of Governors who are selected by Colorado’s Governor, and university presidents who are selected by the Board of Governors.

They make choices that directly impact you during your stay here, and impact your institution well into the future.

It is in your interest to watch them.

Wars and presidential politics command headlines, but what is local has direct impacts, so pay attention.

The city makes and enforces laws relating to your pets, noisy parties, bicycles and roommate counts.

The university determines your degree requirements, class offerings, class sizes, grading policies, resident status, etc.

Plan ahead

Don’t set yourself up to look back as a graduating senior wondering why you were so foolish as to produce a transcript littered with poor freshman-sophomore grades, incompletes, withdraws, or worse.

Life in the short run produces temptations- don’t give in.

Squirrels and bears save up for the long run and surely university students can be at least as wise.

Breaking news says the Fox.

The rest of your life starts now.

Dr. John A. Straayer is a political science professor. His column appears occasionally in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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