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Government at Work

By David Hoyt

Last night, the Center for the Study of American Democracy and the Rural Life Center cosponsored a local politics forum in the Gund Gallery Auditorium. Featured speakers at “Democracy and Local Politics in Knox County” included Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Mavis, Gambier Mayor Kirk Emmert, Knox County Commissioner Teresa Bemiller, and Knox County Democratic Party Chair Meg Galipault.

Moderator Tom Karako, the Center’s director, began the event by reminding the audience that local politics affect their day-to-day lives more immediately than national politics.

The panelists spoke about their roles in local government. As a Democratic politician in conservative Knox County, Mavis, who is currently up for re-election, said that he cannot just play to his base; he has to draw support from local Republicans as well. Mavis pointed out that local government is a lot like state and national government on a smaller scale.

Emmert commented on the differences between city and village governance. Although the village council has more power than the village mayor under Ohio statute, the mayor has the power to appoint people to committees with the council’s approval. He joked that if he disliked someone, he could appoint him or her to the cemetery committee. Gambier elections are non-partisan because, according to Emmert, most issues are not very controversial.

Bemiller said the County Commission has the important duty of providing services to the unincorporated areas of Knox County. It recently met with Verizon to discuss placing a cell tower on the grounds of the county jail.

Galipault, the College’s director of corporate and foundation relations, spoke on the importance of local connections. By visiting Knox County residents personally, Galipault learned that “politics is not a game. … It’s real, it’s personal and it has consequences.” After her uninsured sister died of a heart attack, Galipault was energized to support healthcare reform and spoke of crying on the phone to local Representative Zack Space’s chief of staff when Space decided to vote against the bill.

After speaking, the panelists took questions. One student asked whether it was right for out-of-state students to vote in local elections; the panelists agreed that students should vote as long as they research the candidates and do not vote strictly by party.

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