Political partisanship is most frequently blamed for legislative gridlock at both the national and state level. A recent study shows 50 percent of state legislatures across the country are more politically polarized than Congress.
After living through another MN state legislative session, what I experienced is that Youth Intervention rises above this increasing tendency to place loyalty to party politics over service to constituents.
There is a basic instinct to care for the young and I have not met an elected official who does not support the notion of helping youth. But Youth Intervention not being a political partisanship issue goes beyond basic human nature.
Supporting Youth Intervention offers elected officials the ability to show their commitment to:
- Fiscal responsibility: There is no elected person who wants to waste money. With Youth Intervention providing a great return on investment, it is easy for them to support it.
- Public safety: Elected officials understand that most adults don’t wake up one day and decide to commit illegal acts. It takes a lifetime of experiences that often begins during childhood and adolescence to produce criminal behavior. Public safety is typically job one for elected persons.
- Bipartisan work: Despite growing political polarization, most elected officials know they need to be able to point to some bipartisan successes. To demonstrate their ability to ‘work across the aisle’, they typically look for issues with an emotional appeal. Promoting and supporting youth is a perfect opportunity for bipartisanship.
A simple google search for “youth issues & bipartisan support” provides numerous examples of legislatures ignoring political partisanship and supporting youth issues. This bipartisanship support is an advantage for advocacy work.
If Youth Intervention is an issue that bridges divisive political partisanship, what is stopping Youth Intervention from gaining widely accepted support?
Our advocacy advantage is limited by:
- Legislator Knowledge: There are still too many elected officials who don’t understand that Youth Intervention is all about promoting accountability among youth. Many also remain unaware of the documented effectiveness of Youth Intervention. We will get their support once they recognize that supporting Youth Intervention will help communities in their district.
- Constituent Support: Most elected officials need to feel the wind at their back to fund programs; they need to know their constituents see Youth Intervention as a priority. The problem is that there are not enough constituents taking the time to knock on the doors of their elected officials and talk about the importance of helping at-risk youth.
- Political Pressure: As Youth Intervention supporters, we have yet to create a strong political movement. With other groups pushing elected officials harder than we do, we are not a political threat and therefore easy for elected officials to not prioritize us.
I (and we) have to own this issue and demand that things change.
Blaming political partisanship for Youth Intervention’s inadequate funding places the responsibility on others. It makes us feel good, but in truth, we are all responsible. We can’t blame anyone but ourselves if we are not fully using the appeal of Youth Intervention that easily overrides political partisanship.
I feel very confident in stating that there is growing momentum for Youth Intervention. The more time I spend with lawmakers, the more I realize that they are beginning to understand and moving toward uniting in a bipartisan manner to help our at-risk youth.
We likely can’t stop the political partisanship, but it is not an issue for Youth Intervention. And, if we continue to advocate properly it won’t become one either.
Paul Meunier is the Executive Director of the Youth Intervention Programs Association (YIPA)