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A civics lesson
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I'm sure more than once you've heard the expression, "If you don't vote, you have nothing to complain about." Yes it's trite and overused - but it's true.

Voting, however, is not where your civic duty ends. No, you actually then have to follow those elected officials after you put them in office - it kind of just makes sense.

Here at The News we hear a lot from you guys, which is great. It's important to know what our readers think about issues and about how those issues affect your everyday lives. One of the most refreshing conversations I have is with an informed reader who knows the issue inside and out and can then form an educated opinion on the topic.

On the flip side of that coin is the person with little or no real knowledge of the subject, which is just enough to make them dangerous.

An ill-informed person can use his limited information to create a movement detrimental to the public in general.

There's an old Yiddish proverb that says, "A half truth is a whole lie." Half truths are dangerous, making it even more important for the citizenry to be completely informed on all subjects.

How does that happen?

It would be impossible for elected officials or an outside agency to disseminate informational material to the entirety of the population.

That means the responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of citizens. Who else do you trust to give you accurate information?

An informed and educated citizenry can be a not so straight and narrow politician's worst nightmare and can lead to better elected officials from an electorate voting for candidates based on issues instead of personalities and heavily veiled promises of a better future.

This is an important time in Newton County with candidate qualifying set to begin on Monday. We have a chance to be active in the electoral process this fall on a local and national level.

What are the issues you care about? Are the candidates even talking about the issues you think are critical to Newton County?

Now's the time to be thinking about what direction you want our elected officials to move toward. That's part of being an informed citizen - you first have to decide what needs to be done before you talk about how it needs to be done.

The next step is to find out exactly what stance each candidate takes on the subject - if they don't have an opinion or plan for the issue, it sounds like it might be time to ask directly what stance they take.

If they really want your vote, they'll tell you where they stand - the key is then to hold them their rhetoric. Letters, e-mails, phone calls and votes are some of the best tools for communicating thoughts to public officials, good or bad.

Once candidates are in office, staying informed is just as important as during the campaign season as a means of being not only an informed constituent but also an informed citizen.

How does an informed citizen behave?

An informed citizen may attend a public meeting - not just when a hot-button issue is on the table, but when mundane ordinary public business is being handled.

So many times we see, as reporters, the masses show up for a divisive issue with limited knowledge on the topic but unlimited opinions based on hearsay and half truths - those residents don't typically make the most persuasive opponents of a topic.

Disagreeing with public officials is quite normal and allowable but only if the citizen is indeed informed and has arguments based on fact. The inverse of the informed citizen, however, is dangerous and problematic to the public good and the democratic system.

Former President James A. Garfield once said, "All free governments are managed by the combined wisdom and folly of the people."

What a true statement. The rights that give us the power to choose our governmental representation also give us the power to collectively shoot ourselves in the foot. Sometimes we'll make those mistakes no matter how well-informed we are but the chances a much less if we arm ourselves with knowledge.

Robby Byrd is the editor of The Covington News. He can be reached at rbyrd@covnews.