“All politics is local,” is a familiar refrain in the campaign and public policy world. It’s a quote largely credited to former Speaker of the House, Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, and typically applied to the use of political tactics to win elections or move public opinion on specific policy initiatives. However, in order for those tactics to work, voters must be focused on the local issues that matter in their daily lives.
As social media increasingly drives our political ideologies and consumption habits, it seems that our attention has drifted away from the local communities in which we live to a tribal debate about what it really means to be “American.” Neither political party has a claim to being the “American” party when we are so evenly divided, and we are all Americans. Moreover, and thankfully, we are a much richer nation culturally than an elephant or donkey could ever completely represent.
Especially in a Presidential Election year, we can get pulled into larger national debates, but 2020 is an outlier with a national pandemic, racial justice at the forefront, and a president who just can’t seem to stay out of the headlines long enough for us to think or talk about anything (or anyone) else. As important as those national debates are, we can walk and chew gum at the same time, and local issues and races are not proxy battles for these national discussions.
We should view local races more like job interviews than campaigns for the hearts and minds of local citizens. A candidate’s resume, past experience, demonstrated commitment to public service, and understanding of the issues matters a great deal. The letter or cartoon animal next to a candidate’s name is irrelevant when we are talking about local public health, land use on the 23 percent of Chaffee County not owned by the Federal Government, or stewardship of the public’s trust in our local institutions.
While it’s tempting to farm out our work as citizens to a simple question of red or blue, evaluating local candidates without regard to political affiliation will more times than not result in stronger leadership and attention to those issues that really matter in our respective communities.
So, as we count down to Election Day (ballots go out on October 12th), let’s keep our politics local and elect the best candidates for the jobs they seek to fill.
Martin is a practicing attorney in Buena Vista and former staffer to Senator Dick Durbin (D- Illinois). He occasionally contributes a Guest Opinion to Ark Valley Voice.