by HANNAH BROADBENT
“The election of Donald Trump got a lot of people involved in politics, whether or not you voted for him,” said Waconia resident Melissa Schoenberg, founder of the
non-partisan organization Take Back Your State (TBYS).
Schoenberg is a mother of two with a full time job. She is one of the 50 to 60 percent of Americans that votes in the presidential election(CNN, 2016) every year. She says in the past after voting in elections “she wouldn’t follow through.”
“I used to think I was “involved” in politics simply because I took the time out of my busy schedule every four years to vote for a President,” Schoenberg said. “To be honest, I rarely, if ever, paid any attention to the state candidate bubbles on the voting ballot, I simply filled in the bubble for the candidate aligned to my ‘party’.”
Schoenberg regrets the times she didn’t follow news after elections or vote every two years.
“Today, I can tell you that I’m ashamed of that negligence,” she said.
Schoenberg said she wondered if she was the only person who felt this way, if she was the only person who wanted to know more and understand better. So, she started Take Back Your State.
According to TBYS’s website, “Take Back Your State provides people a forum to share their opinion on the bills being discussed and voted on by their state legislators. Legislation at state level, in our own backyards, can be far more impactful than those happening at a federal level.”
The website has a collection of bills that are being proposed in your district. People can see how many votes have been cast ‘yea’ or nay’ and how many votes each local bill has.
“Party lines start to get really blurred at that level,” she said.
Schoenberg said TBYS takes data that exists on state websites and makes it simpler. The website does not show an affiliated party with each bill, so people make a decision solely on what they are reading, with no bias towards party lines according to Schoenberg.
“If I was to blindly pick someone to watch my kids based on an endorsement, that’s not the right thing to do,” she said. “You shouldn’t say no because a ‘democrat’ wrote it.”
The website takes your zipcode and shows you active bills. Schoenberg says that every bill comes from a need or want, and it’s the citizen’s job to see if they can see what that need or want was. She says if people can’t see that, then to vote no and ask your legislation.
“You need to evaluate it from the standpoint of ‘it’s going to be a law’,” she said.
TBYS is currently active in Colorado, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, South Dakota, California and New York. Though, Schoenberg said they’re trying to focus most of it at home. She said she wants Minnesota to set the standard of how to interact with local legislation.
“We have an incredible opportunity to make an impact in our own states,” Schoenberg said.
Schoenberg believes people want to know what’s going on and what will affect their lives. On a bigger level very little is being talked about as far s actual legislation according to Schoenberg.
“We need community engagement and to vote so we can offer up information to our legislators,” she said.
At the beginning of each week TBYS emails a voting summary to district representatives. Included in the email is the exact number of yea’s or nay’s in each bill as well as how many people ‘requested a response’. Officials can log into the website and read comments, gather contact information and validate constituent location.
Media outlets like print, radio and TV can also request the voting numbers for the top 10 bills from that week.
Schoenberg said everyone but North Dakota, South Dakota and New York has communicated that they have accepted these emails.
Schoenberg hopes to continue to expand Take Back Your State into other states. She also hopes to get into high schools so kids can learn how to get information before they are ready to vote.
“Use your voice and help our legislators make decisions that represent the views of their constituents,” Schoenberg wrote.