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Martin: You say you want a revolution? Well, you know…

Margaret Martin//February 10, 2010

Martin: You say you want a revolution? Well, you know…

Margaret Martin//February 10, 2010

Margaret Martin
Margaret Martin

Last week former Alaska Governor and Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin addressed the Tea Party movement and told them that “America is ready for another revolution.”

It’s clear that the American people have been hungry for change for some time. President Obama was elected on the mere promise of change, but the winds of change are continuing to blow and not necessarily in the direction that he intended.

Activists in Minnesota are already looking to next November, when a governor, all of the Minnesota House and Senate and the other constitutional offices are all up for grabs. Expect voters to opt for even more changes at the ballot box.

But maybe it’s time for people to start looking outside the ballot box.
Accountability doesn’t stop after elections. Once you elect someone to represent you, you need to follow their progress, to see how they vote and let them know you are watching them. Too many times politicians are elected only to forget over time whose interests they really represent.

Rather than rail against “the special interests” and lobbyists, become one yourself and book a visit with your legislator from time to time and bring your friends along.

Most people are surprised at how easily available their representatives are; even if they don’t share their general views, constructive dialogues can ensue from a single contact.

The founders spoke of “the passions and the interests” as being ever-present in politics, and how this was a weakness of democracy.

But they also understood that if you tried to legislate them out of existence, “the cure would be worse than the disease.” The only way to combat the takeover of government by one group or another is through more and expanded participation.

By focusing on the top level only, people seeking to limit the reach of government miss tremendous opportunities to shape government at the local level. If a level of government takes your house away for some public purpose, chances are that it won’t be Uncle Sam that does it or the State of Minnesota. It will be your city or another municipal government-most likely run by your neighbors.

Local governments are also generally the least transparent level of government. We may know about the federal government spending $800 on a toilet seat or the State of Minnesota spending $667,000 on a fishing pier (as reported by KSTP last week), but most of us know little about the way that local governments spend our money outside of the general categories offered up in the annual “truth in taxation” mailings.

The only way to learn about how your local government works is to sit in on meetings (or watch them on TV) and meet with your local elected officials if you have questions or concerns. If your local government invites public comment on an issue you care about, show up and speak up!

If you want change, don’t look only at the legislative level. You can have an impact on the judicial and executive branches as well.

For people concerned about crime in their neighborhoods, aside from becoming active or starting a block club organization, there are numerous ways you can influence the criminal justice system in Minnesota.

There are court-watching groups like WATCH ( and the Downtown Court Watch in Minneapolis that focus on certain types of offenses, including domestic violence and livability crime.
The courts also take public comment through “community impact statements,” in which individuals can voice how certain types of crimes have affected their lives or livelihoods, directly and indirectly.

There are restorative justice programs where those who want to try to influence especially young criminals will work with them to get them to understand how their crimes affect the community.  These groups’ activities are independent of and complementary to the criminal justice system. They help keep the courts accountable to the communities they serve.

Electing a governor is not the only way to influence the executive branch. Minnesota Statute 14.001 governs Public Administration in Minnesota, the mechanism through which the executive branch implements its policies and conducts its programs.

The statute provides for continuous oversight on public administration, including an administrative judicial process that involves not only hearings when there is a conflict or grievance, but also judicial review of agencies’ actions.

As those rules get written and re-written, there is an open comment process where civil servants, administrative law judges and citizens can make their opinions known on points of administrative law that can affect their businesses and property.

As arcane as “administrative law” sounds to many of us, it turns out that many of the decisions that affect our day-to-day lives happen far below the radar screen and long after laws are passed by the Legislature.
There is a unique opportunity to learn all about this little understood but extremely important area of government: On Thursday, February 25, the Minnesota Bar Association Administrative Law Section is hosting a training session on citizen involvement in the administrative rule-making process.

Click here for more information

Although billed as a Continuing Legal Education credit workshop, the program is meant to give an introduction to the administrative rules comment process that lawyers can pass along to their clients, or that non-lawyers can adopt for their own areas of interest.

It’s important to remember that elections are a blunt instrument for change. With each sweep into power, the wheel of the ship of state can lurch from side to side.

But down below at the level of implementation and enforcement, many things continue on the same course-unless citizens use the tools of accountability and transparency that exist. There are opportunities at every level of government to make your voice heard.
Viva la Revolucion!

Margaret Martin has a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Michigan and an M.A. from the London School of Economics. She is co-host of the Saturday morning radio program “The David Strom Show” on AM-1280. She blogs at and

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