Reading The Baltimore Sun editorial on the effort to create a Fair Elections Fund got me thinking about my 6th grade literacy students in Southwest Baltimore (“Baltimore’s next step toward better government,” June 21). This past year, they researched the chemical lead, its physical form, its historical use, its impact on human health, its racist persistence in the pipes of our school buildings and on the walls of our homes and what could be done about it.
Ultimately, the class partnered with Del. Robbyn Lewis, submitting research and testimony on behalf of a bill that lowered the actionable threshold for children with elevated blood lead levels. I wish you could have seen the excitement and joy on their faces when they heard the bill they’d advocated for had become actual law.
What does this story have to do with a Fair Elections Fund? Well, the people closest to an issue, who will be most impacted by it, are the ones who should have the decision-making power over how to address it.
The experience was empowering to these 11- and 12-year-olds because their relationship to seemingly insurmountable injustices had shifted. They were no longer powerless victims, they had the means to tangibly affect change in their worlds.
So what message does it send to young people if they see that the elected positions of city government, those with the most direct power to address the problems in their neighborhoods are only available to the rich or have been built on the support of rich and powerful interests?
The Fair Elections Fund returns power to the citizens and opens the door for young people to rise to power without owing a debt to real estate and corporate interests. They could seek office and have the independence to make decisions based on the will of their neighbors instead of those with no real skin in the game. They would see candidates and elected officials who are able to spend more time in their communities, listening to families’ concerns and valuing their small donations.
Let me also preemptively say something to those who may try to divide and conquer the coalition of citizens fighting on behalf of this bill. Creating a Fair Elections Fund does not jeopardize increasing education funding from the city in any way.
An estimated $2 million to $2.5 million a year would cover multiple candidates for mayor, council president, council, and comptroller, as well as oversight and public education for the program. To put that into perspective, the top 20 Baltimore Police Department officers earned $2.25 million in overtime alone in Fiscal Year 2018. Alone! Investing eight hundredths of one percent of the city’s annual budget is a small price to pay for opening up democracy to the next generation of civic leaders.