Do your part for the land that you love

“Support our right to vote or you shred our democracy”

Elections are on the horizon. They form the cornerstone of our democracy.
Local elections matter because the decisions made by our municipal leaders influence our everyday lives in important ways — from how development will proceed in town to how trash is handled.

For decades, we at The Enterprise have done our best to inform voters. We interview candidates on the issues so that readers can see how their views line up with the candidates’ visions.

This year, we are planning online issues-based forums so that voters can see in real time how candidates respond to questions and to each other. And the questions we ask will come from town residents.

As elections approach and rumors are rife about one candidate or another, we look into allegations to find facts that will let our readers choose wisely. The stories on today’s front page are a clear example of this.

We always seek the view of the candidate who is being questioned or accused.

This year, we received calls, saying that the Republican candidate for Knox supervisor, Kregg Grippo, did not live in town. If that were true, it would invalidate his candidacy.

It seemed simple enough to ask Grippo to show us proof that the address he had given to the county’s board of elections was actually where he lived — and we could put the rumor to rest.

But Grippo did not respond to several polite emailed inquiries or phone messages from our Hilltown reporter, Noah Zweifel.

So Zweifel drove to the address Grippo had given the board of elections and talked to a worker there who said the place was being renovated. It made sense that Grippo might be temporarily living elsewhere if his home was being renovated.

At about the same time, we were given a few court records, showing financial mismanagement by Grippo. Zweifel went to the Schenectady County Office Building and reviewed dozens of legal documents, including tax delinquency lists, court judgments, and notices of action.

Zweifel made several polite attempts to get Grippo to explain the lapses documented in court papers. We put off publishing the story for a week because we wanted to include Grippo’s views. Grippo finally agreed to talk to Zweifel but then abruptly withdrew.

As Zweifel’s story last week noted, financial management skills are critical to someone running for town supervisor because, if elected, he would be in charge of a $2.3 million municipal budget.

Grippo then filed a harassment charge with the Albany County Sheriff’s Office against Zweifel. Zweifel was interviewed by a deputy last week and hasn’t been contacted further.

A reporter is not harassing a candidate if he asks where that candidate lives or asks him to explain his long string of court records. Rather, that reporter is doing his job — trying to fairly tell all sides of a story, and seeking the truth so that voters can be well informed.

Enterprise reporters will not be deterred by intimidation tactics. We serve our readers, the citizens who make a democracy work.

We are writing this editorial on the eve of 9/11, which has caused us to focus on the importance of democracy. When our nation was attacked by terrorists 20 years ago, we were heartened by the way Americans from all political camps — Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives and most everyone in between — united.

One of the images that has stayed with us through these past two decades — almost as tenacious as the images of horror from that day — is that of the members of Congress standing together on the steps of the Capitol on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, breaking out in an impromptu rendition of “God Bless America.”

“When America suffers, and when people perpetrate acts against this country, we as a Congress and a government stand united and we stand together to fight this evil threat,” said Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert of Illinois at the time.

Later, President George W. Bush said, “All of America was touched on the evening of the tragedy to see Republicans and Democrats joined together on the steps of this Capitol singing ‘God Bless America.’”

The song was written by Irving Berlin, born Israel Baline in Russia in 1888. When he was a child, his family’s home in Siberia was destroyed by an anti-Jewish mob. The Balines immigrated to America.

In 1938, when singer Kate Smith was looking for a song to commemorate another 20-year anniversary — the armistice that ended World War I — Irving Berlin reworked the lyrics to a song he had written in 1918.

As clouds of war were gathering in Europe — Berlin had recently returned from Europe where Adolf Hitler was growing more powerful — he wanted a peace song that would bring Americans together.

It’s not a patriotic song,” Berlin said in a 1940 interview, “but an expression of gratitude for what this country has done for its citizens, of what home really means.” 

What troubles us deeply today is that Americans are not united; we are polarized in an ugly and harmful way. This does not feel like a welcoming home.

The threat to democracy, to the very core of our nation, is no longer from an outside evil force but rather from within.

Perhaps because there are not vivid images — the Twin Towers crumbling, people jumping to their deaths — to awaken us to this threat, many of us are dozing through the dismantling of our democracy. 

Since January, states have already enacted more than 30 laws making it harder for Americans to vote. False and often racist allegations about voter fraud have inspired a large number of these restrictions.

We support the For the People Act, which would mitigate many of the recently imposed state restrictions. The House of Representatives has passed the act; it’s now up to the Senate to make it the law of the land.

We also support the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act because it would stop those voting restrictions from being created to begin with.

The United States Supreme Court eight years ago gutted the Voting Rights Act, doing away with the preclearance system that had required states and localities with a history of voting discrimination to get certification in advance that any election changes would not be discriminatory.

The formula was invalidated in a 5-to-4 Supreme Court decision as being out of date. 

The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissent, “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

If our representatives pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, we would have our umbrella back. The storm is here and the rains are heavy. Our democracy is dissolving from within.

We need to stand together as our members of Congress did on the Capitol steps 20 years ago. This doesn’t mean we have to agree on every issue. It means we need to understand the basis of our ever-evolving democracy is inclusive. We need to stand together against laws that would keep some of us from voting.

If this is, as Berlin’s song had it, the land that you love, you need to do your part. Pay attention to your local elections, tell us what issues matter to you, be informed, and vote on Nov. 2.

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