Up until a few years ago, I can't say I knew the views of my local St. Joseph County commissioner or my county councilman. I barely even knew their names. Typically, before I would go cast my ballot, I would spend a few minutes doing some general research on the candidates —  but that, of course, provided a very limited picture. I didn't pay attention much to local news and certainly didn't know all the big issues facing our county. My community involvement was more neighborhood level, church-related or tied to my children's school or extracurricular activities.
All of this is ironic, of course. I used to work in government, as a speechwriter for the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Prior to that, I covered local news as a business reporter. I used to be totally immersed in both news and politics, but after I had a family, my focus shifted to my kids, and I simply didn't pay attention to anything but the big national news stories that dominated headlines. 
All that changed for me after COVID. I realized that my local government was playing a large role in how our community would respond to the coronavirus, and I knew that I wanted to have a voice in those decisions. I started showing up before public boards, before the County Council, before the county commissioners. I used public comment periods to express my opinions. I contacted public officials to relay my concerns and gauge their thoughts on a number of issues. I wrote letters to the editor for the Tribune.
My interest area naturally expanded beyond coronavirus and into all sorts of different issues that were being brought to my attention, simply because I had decided to get engaged. I even started getting involved in state politics, when I saw how some issues we faced here connected to the policies being made in Indianapolis. Unlike national politics — which can be so distant and difficult to impact — we, as citizens, can do so much to affect decisions made here in our community. To start with, our local officials are accessible. They go to our same churches, they shop at the same grocery stores, their kids attend the same schools.
Almost every local official I've reached out to has returned a call or an email — regardless of party affiliation and regardless of whether I actually lived within the representative's district lines. With a few exceptions, I have found the willingness of many local officials to engage on a number of issues outstanding. While we certainly don't always agree, the debates are essential, as we examine all the positives and negatives of policies that could affect our community. Additionally, public meetings are easy to attend. Not only is the County City building — where many local government meetings take place — only a few miles away for many of us, Zoom is now an option at almost every public meeting. Online agendas also help keep citizens in the know, and are of course, accessible from a home computer.

Furthermore, outlets like the South Bend Tribune or Real News Michiana or our myriad of local TV news stations keep county residents apprised of county news in a way that national news organizations simply can't.  All of these elements are important and provide a way for us to be engaged and have an impact locally. We are taught in school that we have a civic responsibility to participate in our society, but it is more than that — it is a great honor to have a part in the decision-making that affects all of our families and keeps this county strong and tight-knit.

I have been so positively impacted by my experiences here in local government that I have decided to take it to the next level and run for office. This November, I will be on the ballot, running for a position on the St. Joseph County Council. It all began by just engaging and plugging in. I am so thankful for the role I've already been able to play as a citizen in my local government and now I'm excited to see what I can do representing this county as a local official.

This viewpoint originally appeared in the South Bend Tribune, Feb. 19, 2022. Amy is a homeschooling mother of seven children. Her husband of 20 years, John Drake, is a South Bend native and works as a lawyer. 

- Families First -

Making St. Joseph County A Place To Call Home

  • Safe Communities: Fund police at levels that allow our county to retain and attract officers and provide them with the training and equipment they need to do their jobs well. 
  • Improved Roads: Make well-maintained roads a priority by targeting money to keep our road crews fully staffed, as well as keep our streets free from potholes, snow and ice. 
  • Balanced Budgets: Keep government spending responsible and within budget -- and look for ways to save money. Families need to balance their home checkbooks, and we should hold the county council to the same standard.