And so the silly season, otherwise known as election time, is upon us.

This is the first election cycle in about 30 years that I haven’t been an elected official, a candidate or an in-the-trench activist. Interestingly enough, I haven’t suffered any major withdrawal symptoms or found myself signing up for the various depression medications advertised on television, whose side effects include getting “really” depressed.

Although I’m not complaining, I’m not sure why. It’s not like I’ve had a post-partisan conversion and suddenly believe in that “hopey-changey” thing. I’m curiously watching the Tea Party movement develop and am still uncertain as to where that path will ultimately lead. Will there be “unsweet” (aggressive), “sweet” (more accommodating), “flavored” (certain issues receive more or less emphasis), “hot” (here today, gone tomorrow) and “iced” (going nowhere) divisions of “tea” within the movement?

And, after completely fumbling the ball that had been entrusted to them for eight years on the national level, I’m not fully persuaded that Republican leaders have sincerely repented and seen the light.

So how is this election season playing out on the local level?

Well, we have a veteran Dallas congresswoman getting caught handing out scholarship money to her relatives — the flip side of considering your constituents as family (i.e., considering your family as constituents) isn’t quite as heartwarming.

How about a veteran Garland state legislator who didn’t realize that getting reimbursed twice for the same expenditure — and pocketing one of those reimbursements for himself — was improper? If that’s a reflection of his analytical ability, it’s hard not to question his competency when it comes to passing our laws.

Another former Dallas state legislator just packed up and went off to prison for accepting improper benefits from a supporter. She was an ardent advocate for prisoners’ rights while she was in the legislature. I guess that’s one way to measure the effectiveness of your work.

Another Irving state legislator, who won in 2008 by only 19 votes, was criticized for driving a donated — but unreported — Mercedes by a supporter, who has business with a state agency. It probably would have been a better idea to trade the Mercedes for a bus large enough to make sure those 19 folks make it back to the polls this year.

These illustrations are brought to us courtesy of both Republicans and Democrats. Neither party has a monopoly on the more unattractive or irresponsible traits of human nature.

In Lake Highlands, at least until we see how districts get redrawn next year, we have three legislative races that affect our community because we are divided into three separate state legislative districts. In our eastern and southern sections (District 107), incumbent Democrat Allen Vaught is being challenged by Republican Kenneth Sheets. In our western section (District 114), incumbent Republican Will Hartnett is being challenged by Democrat John Wellik. In our northern section (District 102), incumbent Democrat Carol Kent is being challenged by Republican Stefani Carter.

So, how will you be making your decisions at the ballot box this year?

I can tell you from personal experience that it can be downright frightening how some folks make their decisions. In 2002, when I knocked on doors, I automatically received support because I was “the Republican candidate”. In 2006, when I knocked on doors, I automatically received skepticism because I was “the Republican candidate”. People with college degrees wished me luck in Washington, even though I was running for the state legislature in Austin. People demanded that I take action on matters wholly unrelated to being a state representative — from fixing potholes to withdrawing from Iraq.

What I found to be much more common than one would ever expect is a general civic illiteracy among college-educated, professional, upstanding citizens. When people begin to lose an understanding of the basic principles and reasons for our system of government, then they become more likely to believe anything, until they finally know nothing.

If such deterioration in understanding is allowed to continue unchecked, then an opportunity eventually will be created for the elitists in our society to step in and take over for the “masses”, who are no longer capable of governing themselves. Those who fail to remember history are doomed to repeat it. Our forefathers escaped a history of being “subjects” to become a nation of self-governing “citizens”.

“Citizens” are educated about their government and jealously defend their freedoms. “Subjects” accept ignorance and surrender freedom in exchange for — at least what they are told is — security.

How you exercise your right to vote could tell you a lot about whether you’re still a citizen or on the road to becoming a subject.

Bill Keffer, a neighborhood resident and former state representative, writes a bi-monthly opinion column about neighborhood issues. His opinions are not necessarily those of the Advocate or its management. Send comments and ideas to him by email at editor@advocatemag.com.