Orange County Branch Newsletter
"Doing Politics" is Good for Your Career
By: Jeff Braun, P.E.
I’ve said it, and I’ve heard many of my peers - “I don’t do politics”.
I was younger then, and I had different priorities. I’m not saying they were the right priorities, but as a younger adult, I didn’t see the benefit of researching each candidate for every office listed on an upcoming ballot, never mind every bill and proposition. I had my full share of excuses – I haven’t lived here that long, I’ll be moving again in a year or two, I’m not educated enough on the issues to take a side, etc.
I still dislike the political climate surrounding major elections, but I now appreciate the importance of educating myself on key issues and taking an active part in the future of my community and profession. It is sad to see how few of us vote, especially given the emotions I see shared on social media after the polls are closed. If you are too busy (or too lazy) to learn about the topics, evaluate options, and vote, then you shouldn’t have time to write blogs, tweet, or make videos (while driving) about how messed up the “system” is and how you can’t believe a particular measure was passed or person was elected.
Political issues have a far-reaching effect, much more than just how much sales tax you will pay on your next shopping trip and whether the store will have plastic bags for you to carry away. Engineers impact, and are impacted by, all aspects of the political landscape. The newly elected city council member, mayor, legislator, or governor may support infrastructure funding, or may oppose future local development. The proposed tax measure may provide crucial funding for transit and roadway improvements, or may include stipulations that stifle progress. All are important issues that influence future and ongoing infrastructure and development projects, and may directly affect the engineering profession – such as professional licensing requirements or liability limits.
As engineers, we have a first-hand point of view of our infrastructure, its capacity and condition, as well as what is required to improve and maintain it. Our friends, family, and neighbors often get their information from one-sided sources focusing on data and sound bites that support their position, while ignoring others. As engineers, we learn to evaluate problems from all aspects, considering the costs and benefits of various options and selecting the best course of action. Practical well-thought out decisions are in everyone’s best interest, but too often decisions or elections are based on partial truths and which side can buy the most airtime. You may not be ready to go on a Sunday morning talk show this weekend, but there are countless news outlets, publications, websites, and people available to help. I recommend using more than one, if not several, as sources may have leanings, even if they are not always blatant.
ASCE is one of the valuable resources for educating yourself on government affairs. The LA Section Newsletter includes a legislative update in each edition, along with great articles from ASCE leadership and members. The Region 9 Issues and Advocacy page provides news updates along with links to tools and training, including the ASCE Key Contact Program. If you are not aware of what Key Contact is, please click the link and sign up. It is very quick and provides an efficient way to reach out to elected officials about hot issues important to the civil engineering community.
In Orange County, we are extremely lucky to have branch leaders, past and present, who are passionate about government relations and have been highly active in engaging our local and state-level elected officials. Many of our past presidents continue to serve at the section, region, and society levels, along with motivated branch members who contribute through government relations and legislative committees. Steven King, Past-President of the OC Branch and current LA Section President-Elect, is heavily involved in government relations and was recently the chair of the LA Section Legislative Committee. Elizabeth Ruedas, our current President-Elect, is very active with government relations committees at all levels of ASCE. She is an amazing advocate for our Orange County Branch members and is another great resource on the latest policies and legislative actions. I am sure she won’t mind if you ask her about it next time you see her.
Whether it is the repeal of SB-1, local inclusionary zoning measures, or a state legislator will vote on infrastructure funding, your opinion matters. This is especially true when you have the education and background to critically evaluate what is on the ballot and help our family, friends, and peers better understand the options. Don’t just be a bystander … be engaged on what happens in your community and the government actions that may influence your livelihood as a civil engineer.