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Editorial: Local Elections Have Daily Impact


I won't even pretend to argue that local politics are as exciting or glamorous as the Washington scene. In fact, they are often downright boring. Nonetheless, the decisions made by city and county governments, school boards, and even smaller public bodies, often have a much greater impact on our day to day lives than those made on Capitol Hill.

Everything from how clean the water you drink is, to the landscape and flavor of your neighborhood, to the quality of education your child receives is decided primarily by local officials. Some of them are very good and extremely competent. Others -- well, not so much.

It is with this in mind, that I am always disappointed in how little attention is generally paid to local races. Turnout for local races or referendums that don't coincide with big elections tend to be woefully low. One can only then assume that higher turnout for such races when they are on a bigger slate is owed more to straight-ticket voters than increased interest, and polling data supports such theory.    

One of my early mentors once told me that he believed in small government because you needed to keep politicians close enough to you to get your hands around their (expletive) necks. You weren't likely to get the ear of a Congressman or even a state Senator in any meaningful way, but you could get in front of your city council and give them hell. You could call them to the carpet in your local newspaper, and if you and just a fair-sized group of neighbors banded together, you could even throw them out of office the next time they were up for re-election.

There is still much to be said for his theory. Many people are for "smaller government," but neglect to realize that shrinking the big governments tends to empower the smaller ones, making their decisions even more important. When we fail to follow along, we not only miss our chance to voice concerns and to possibly influence policy, but we deprive ourself of the information needed to make an informed vote.

When we don't know what's going on, actions start to mean less than money, which is the same thing that has destroyed Washington. Incumbents end up keeping their seats over 99% of the time. The larger the campaign budget, the greater the chance of victory and ultimately, the voter loses faith in the process. That is the circle of apathy.

Elected officials must be held accountable for making decisions in the best interest of their constituents. They must exercise the will of the people, but the people must pay attention to know when their governments have failed them. Time and again, I've witnessed certain local elected officials ignore the expressed will of their constituents in favor of special interests, only to remain in office.

They benefit from name recognition, coordinated fundraising efforts that are very difficult for a newcomer to overcome, and most of all from voter apathy. This cycle is to the detriment of voters and frustration of the worthy and competent officials, who all too often are outvoted on important issues. The end result is the perception that things don't change, that politicians are all the same, and that voting doesn't make a difference. That's what the people working against the common citizen want and why it is so important to resist the call to apathy.

As a newspaper, we have made a commitment to providing honest and accurate information on the local policy issues that effect our readers' lives everyday. I would like to challenge our readers to participate in their local decision making process and hold those accountable, feet to the fire, with the power of their vote.

Remember, the smaller the body of government, the more share of power your vote carries. Follow along and then elect the people who are truly willing to stand for what you believe in this fall, not just the ones with the most yard signs.

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