The media has been obsessing with the top of the ticket for months. Certainly, there has been no shortage of opportunities to write about this unprecedented presidential race. While there can be no doubt that this race is vital to the future of our country, it is far from the only race that will impact on our lives over the next four years. Our forefathers were very clever in defining the distinct role of our federal government as separate from that of our state and local governments. While there have been many battles over exactly what that delineation is, there is no doubt that many of the laws and opportunities that have a direct impact on our lives are regulated and determined by our state and local governments. It is the bottom of the ballot that is too often forgotten and relegated to being an afterthought rather than a priority.
When we consider the many issues decided locally we are reminded of the incredible power that is concentrated in our state, county and city governments. In fact, most of the decisions that impact most directly on our lives are local issues. For example, state income tax, sales tax, property tax and user fees impact on our livelihood. State and local boards of education dictate school curricula. City councils determine which books are purchased by our libraries as well as zoning laws and community development priorities. Additionally local governments are responsible for providing for the health and safety of its citizens and the regulation of utilities. State and local governments are responsible maintaining the roads and infrastructure. It is therefore obvious that participating in the selection of those local leaders is an obligation that should not be overlooked.
While most often state, county and local governments act in the best interests of its citizenry, there are times when due to ideological imbalance the opposite is the case. For example:
- Some states have made it particularly difficult for women to have an abortion. They say that the laws that they have passed are to protect women, but it is obvious that their only goal is to make abortions less available.
- There are cities and states that have passed extremely lenient gun laws, allowing for open carry in bars, churches and on university campuses. They say that this is to decrease the violent use of guns, that the only way to deter violence is with “good guys with guns”. But we know that there is a false interpretation of the 2nd Amendment at play here.
- There are states that have passed particularly onerous voters registration laws. They say it is to protect us from voter fraud, but we know it is to reduce voter participation among the elderly, the young and minorities.
- There are local governments that have refused to allow their registrars to approve marriage licenses for gay couples. They say it is to protect the sanctity of marriage, but we know that it is to codify their homophobia.
- There are boards of education that have required that Creationism be included in the school curricula. They say it is to present balance, but we know it is to sneak religion into the secular curriculum.
- There are states that refuse to participate in programs that protect the environment and slow climate change. They call climate change a hoax, but we know that there are powerful corporations involved in this decision.
Every issue that I discussed above is impacted by local congressman, senators, state legislators, county executives, county commissions, city councils and mayors. All are at the bottom of the ballot . Don’t ignore them. Vote in November and take the time to consider your community and who can best serve your beliefs if elected.