The Importance of Local Representation
As the U.S. continues to embrace the spectacles of political performances on the biggest stages of American politics, it is important to remind ourselves of the power in the votes that most closely affect us. Local elections deserve more of the attention paid to the representatives in Washington, D.C. because the results have as significant an impact on constituents as the elections to the capital. The population seems to care more about news as a form of entertainment, and news media outlets have taken notice, adjusting the style of their coverage to cater to an increasingly desensitized audience. With so much attention surrounding standout politicians, recent elections have become akin to actual popularity contests. Even so, voter turnout is still low. Not only is there low participation in presidential elections, but the turnout for primaries, mid-terms, and local seats is far lower. The fewest votes go to the seats that do the most concrete work. This is counterproductive to the spirit of voting. Too much focus is on the candidates rather than the results from the responsibilities of the respective offices. Not much hype surrounds the election of a councilman, but the city council does more for voters than one might think.
On September 24th, the Knoxville city council voted to ban gun shows on city properties. While federal representation does little more than stall and change the subject away from gun-control, local representation is at work to make positive changes in the culture of the city. The 8-1 vote in favor of the ban is proof of this representation at work, and the incoming mayoral candidates have both committed to seeing the resolution through. Money is also more easily followed in local politics. Clear and definitive budgets and spending resolutions make for easy voting, and riders do not seem to be present to complicate consent. Local politicians can have a quicker, larger, and more direct impact than the embattled representatives in Washington, D.C.
Mayor Rogero wrapped up her report to the city council meeting by reminding the audience of early voting dates in the Regular City Election. The election is important for many reasons. Her replacement will be on the ballot. Council members will be on the ballot. While seemingly insignificant, details pertaining to individual concerns can be effectively addressed at city council meetings. A person seeking rezoning for real property does not feel invisible at a city council meeting, where unanimous consent granted approval for locals seeking such a change. City councils also confirm appointments to several boards and commissions that affect streets, schools, neighborhoods, and businesses. One such appointment to the historic zoning commission was confirmed today on October 8th. Appointments like these may seem minor, but they have a lasting effect on the city through the work of the appointees.
Local politics is more than a community at work for itself. Counties and municipalities combine to make up the force that resists democratic erosion. Federal agencies require the cooperation and even the assistance of local political offices. Federal monies can be declined by these bodies as they refuse to comply with policies deemed harmful or inconsistent with the values of the community. This is not to be taken for granted. Many controversial programs have been effectively blocked through tactics that sought to preserve the spirit of states’ rights, while preventing overreach from the federal government.
Yes, local politics is somewhat boring. I had the pleasure of attending several kinds of events in the past, and each one has been relatively uneventful – this is a good thing. These events are all business and no spectacle. Obligatory and ceremonial gestures are made, but these are essential to maintaining professionalism and upholding respect for the process and the work. Mutual toleration persists in local politics because the focus on community keeps the world small enough for people to see everyone as neighbors. Rather than getting caught up in high emotions surrounding problems bigger than what is in front of us, the business of local politics is tame and productive. The elements of entertainment that surround pop politics is nowhere to be found. This is likely a reason why an event like a city council meeting is insulated from erosive culture. Almost behind-the-scenes, hiding in the plain sight of low-engagement, city council meetings get work done with little distraction, and the serious nature of the involvement makes it harder to penetrate with populist tactics.
Yes, the person sitting in the oval office is of great importance. This person represents our country on the world stage. We look to this person for moral and ethical guidance when our nation is burdened with widespread issues. The POTUS appoints, issues, and leads, and the impact is felt nationwide. All eyes are on the president, but the kind of representation that matters most is in your city. Participating in local politics is the best way to affect change in your own community. The sensationalized media coverage of pop politics has little relevance to the individual, and even less to the day-to-day. What matters day-to-day is the efforts of civil servants working a few miles from your home. City council meetings are the epitome of politics at work. Rather than losing faith in politics altogether, we should focus on getting involved in local politics now more than ever. If you think your vote does not matter, you are not voting often enough.