What brought Rancho Cotate history and government classes to the new theater arts building Fri., May 17? Three former mayors and their pitch to get involved with politics and government was the message delivered to Lillian Cook and Matt Transue’s classes.
Organized by former Rancho Cotate history teacher Flora Lee Ganzler, this open forum and discussion was designed to get young people working in politics at an early age. Transue cited the need for such participation as he reported that his classes discovered through their research that the lowest turnout of voters’ ranges between the ages of 18 and 29.
Former mayors Tim Smith of Rohnert Park, Pam Torliatt of Petaluma and Chris Coursey of Santa Rosa spoke about their past accomplishments as elected officials and their hope that young people will get involved in politics. Each talked about his or her work as mayor and councilman and about how every voice makes a difference in government and policy.
One of the students asked, “What kind of education do you need to get into politics? Ironically, Lawyer Smith responded, “There are too many attorneys in politics. Anyone can participate. Most people that I know in politics are college graduates.”
Torliatt told students how to get on committees. “We need to have some diversity on our boards such as age, gender and ethnic background. People don’t have to have education.” Coursey added another element, “Know your committee and care.” Smith believed that simply showing up is important, a powerful factor.
Lillian Cook asked, “How many people attend city council meetings?” Smith responded, “Few attend unless it’s a hot button issue. Showing up makes the difference.” Pam Tortliatt added, “For 98 percent of the agendas, nobody shows up, yet millions of dollars of contracts are decided by these councils.” And Coursey added, “The size of the crowd that shows up depends on the issues and on the organization of the proponent or opponent.”
Student Nafe Nafe wondered about the plans for tackling homelessness in Rohnert Park and Santa Rosa. Coursey quickly replied, “There are multiple plans; people need to find out what’s available.” He believes that all nine Sonoma County cities need to work together: “We all have to take part in providing solutions.” Smith added, “The City of Rohnert Park failed to provide affordable housing—-there’s still an empty lot where the old city hall was demolished. Rohnert Park and Cotati don’t have shelters for the homeless.”
When a student asked how to begin to be involved, Tim Smith advised, “Watch for independent expenditures. You’ve got to know how to process information. Think critically and make good decisions.”
The three ex-mayors agreed on one thing: involvement is needed and can make a difference regarding any and all issues. They believe that everyone has access to being involved. And all three care about their communities and the legacy passed on to future generations. And that begins with young people such as the Rancho students, being involved.