Now that the municipal elections are behind us, rest assured the 2024 campaigns will begin in earnest.
Whether it involves federal, state or local government, every election is important. Next year will receive tremendous attention with the president, U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, governor, state senate, state representatives, several county offices, some town offices, all township offices and more on the ballot. These offices are not even on the ballot until 2024 yet some candidates have already launched aggressive media campaigns.
It is no surprise, but I was more than a little concerned when I recently read a survey where only 26% of respondents could name all three branches of government — executive, legislative, judicial — meaning 74% could not. In addition, 33% could not name a single branch of government. Civic knowledge has been on the decline for nearly a decade. One could even say that the situation is dire.
How can we participate as an informed electorate when half of the population doesn’t grasp the most rudimentary concepts that are the foundation of our government? This is why I supported legislation passed in 2021 in House Enrolled Act 1384 to require that each student enrolled in an accredited school successfully completes one semester of a civics course sometime between sixth and eighth grade.
Here are just a few suggestions of the many ways Hoosiers of any age can sharpen their civics acumen. This could include volunteering on a campaign of your chosen candidate by knocking on doors, addressing mail, marching in parades and appearing at community events, delivering signs upon request, and sharing your reasons for support with your circle of influence. These discussions must involve civility and respect. But that’s another topic for another day.
You can also follow any bill that is introduced in the Indiana General Assembly on the website iga.in.gov. All committee hearings and floor sessions are live-streamed and then archived for later viewing. You can even appear personally and testify on a particular topic if you would like. I suggest contacting your legislator in advance to better understand the process and get the most out of the experience.
Students in 6th-12th grade can serve as Statehouse pages. Your day as a page includes a Statehouse tour and a front-row seat to the legislative process, even joining your legislator on the chamber floor during debate. The link to sign up as a page is normally activated after Thanksgiving so be sure to check back. Visit iga.in.gov and look for “Student Opportunities.” Best of all, you get out of school for the day without being charged with an absence!
A coveted student opportunity for college students is our internship program. It is open to college students of any major who are sophomores or higher, recent college grads and graduate students. This paid internship lasts the duration of the spring legislative session. Academic credit is possible and there are special opportunities to hear from guest speakers of a special series created just for legislative interns. Applications can be found online at IndianaHouseRepublicans.com.
But my favorite — and arguably most effective — civics lessons come from “Schoolhouse Rock!” This series aired in the ’70s using animation, catchy lyrics and music to teach civics and language arts. The method was so effective that I still mentally “sing” the Preamble whenever I need to recite it. My favorite vignette is “I’m Just a Bill,” which describes the legislative process of turning an idea into a law. The entire “Schoolhouse Rock!” series is available on YouTube. I encourage you to watch them, especially with your children.
I make it a point to visit multiple classrooms every year. Whether it is using “Schoolhouse Rock!” as an interactive experience with K-12 students or a spirited discussion in a 400-level college class on public policy and legislative procedure, an elected official appearing in person helps make government relevant to Hoosier students. If your school would like to schedule a visit, please have a teacher or administrator contact my office.
Finally, know your elected officials. While I cannot accommodate every request for a meeting, I schedule dozens of meetings with constituents as time allows. If I can be of service, write or call my office at 317-232-9620 or [email protected] and let me know what you think.
State Rep. Peggy Mayfield, R-Martinsville, represents House District 60, which includes portions of Johnson, Morgan and Monroe counties. Johnson County lawmakers share in writing a monthly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to [email protected].