LETTER: Local elections

Mike Stephenson

To the editor:

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many changes in American lifestyle and economics. It has certainly captured our attention. As it can only happen in America, this terrible disease has entered national political campaigns. Some would argue it has become the main issue for electors this November. Critics of the administration accuse Mr. Trump of not doing enough and a weak, ineffective response. Supporters of the president counter with what the administration accomplished in early-on actions to halt Chinese-originated flights and rapid mobilization of the pharmaceutical/research industry. Experts expect a huge voter turnout.

Television and internet pundits and commentators blast national audiences with latest developments, shortcomings and accomplishments. Like many of you, this writer’s mail box is stuffed with campaign literature (if you want to call it that) declaring the pros and cons of candidates for state and U.S. offices. Campaign materials praise incumbents and challengers alike and unabashedly describe merits and, conversely, short-comings and warn voters of the dire consequences if their opponents are elected. We are transfixed with national and to some extent, state campaigns.

However, the epidemic offers us much more than fascination with the national and state political scene. It offers us an important and timely lesson in civics and serves to remind us just where the locus of government should be. The purpose of government is to do the “most good for the most people.” We Americans have a strange and unfortunate habit of expending too much attention on national and state elections at the expense of local politics and government functions (school boards, city councils and county commissions). In most local elections, especially in off-election years, a dismal less than 15% of registered voters take the time to cast votes for local offices. And in general elections like this November, our local offices will most likely receive a “ho-hum” check the box.

Certainly, national elections are more exciting than the mundane dealings of local government. After all, this November our cultural and political biases are at stake, but consider this. Our local officials have a more direct impact on our daily lives. They are very involved with quality of life issues, public health, education and public safety much more than any national or state officer. It is easy to blame whomever is president for not invoking a mandatory masking rule or shutting down bars or closing schools. But any anger or frustration is misdirected.

In our system of constitutional government, the federal level has certain enumerated responsibilities, and generally, most other functions of government are left to the states and further delegated to municipalities, counties and special purpose entities (water districts, school boards). And this only makes sense. Since the folks making these decisions often reside and work in the community, they are in fact closer to the “people’s will” than any national officer. Whether you agree or disagree with a particular policy, it is a short ride to city hall, county courthouse, police station or school board meeting. Attempt visiting your congressional representative in our nation’s capital – good luck.

This writer is certainly interested in the presidential outcome. My likes, dislikes and bias will either be gratified or disappointed. But in terms of a direct impact on our community and on individual voters, candidates for local office should receive and need to have as much attention and consideration as our national candidates. Perhaps even more, for as we are constantly reminded elections have consequences, and for local offices that is certainly the case.