I think I am like most people when it comes to political engagement: I first started paying attention to national and international news stories and then only much later started paying attention to what is happening in local government. It was then I realized if someone really wants to make a difference, the best place to be (for all but a select few) is in local politics – both in elections and in influencing public policy.
In national issues, I am one voice of over three hundred million. I have my little blog and my little readership, but I am under no illusions that anything I say or do is going to move the needle a trillionth of a millimeter on national politics. But locally, I can and have had an impact.
Take my campaign for city council last year. I ran as a write-in candidate and got a respectable percentage of the vote for a write-in candidate. (I should have ran as a Republican instead, but what’s done is done.) But beyond the election results, I generated more media coverage than any other candidate except for the two candidates for Mayor. I might not have gotten as many votes as I had hoped for, but I was able to significantly influence the discussion of issues despite spending less than $20 on my entire campaign.
Let’s say that instead of running for city council last year, I was running for Congress this year. Do you think my candidacy would generate any interest or discussion at all?
Your vote matters much more in local elections as well. Less than 8,500 people turned out to vote in the 2015 city election, but many more will turn out in this year’s presidential election. But given how much each individual vote matters in city government races, turnout should actually be higher for city elections than for the Presidential election. In a city election, you are one voice out of less than 8,500. In the 2012 Indiana governor’s race, over two and a half million people voted for one of the candidates. If the election were close, where would five or ten votes matter more?
Finally, it is local government that affects your life on a daily basis to a much greater extent than the federal government. Local government is responsible for city streets and county roads, trash pickup, police and fire protection, planning and zoning, snow removal and other things. The level of government that affects your life the most is also the one you have the most influence over. Why not take advantage of that?