The importance of local(ish) elections

Scout Hutchinson, Columnist

Due to one of the longest presidential and congressional elections that we have had in U.S. history — and arguably one of the most important — there have been massive amounts of news coverage about national politics. Whenever there is a large national election many will point to local elections and urge people to make informed voting choices. However, many make the mistake of focusing only on the politics of their town or city. 

State legislatures and state elections seem to lack publicity, which allows for ignored local(ish) politics and these legislatures to wield much more power than your city council. This is not to say that local politics aren’t important. However, state-wide politics have gone largely ignored and seemingly unchecked. 

Recently in Idaho, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin (R) created a video with several members of the state legislature that was released by the Idaho Freedom Foundation — a libertarian group — in reaction to COVID-19 restrictions that have been instituted by both state and local governments. 

Within the video, McGeachin appears in a vehicle with an American flag and slowly places a gun on the bible with a smile. While I initially found this video to be funny, it reminded me that these were elected representatives for my state, meaning that these official could impact my life more than just giving me a few laughs and feelings of shocked disbelief. 

The largely ignored local(ish) elections elect people who make policy decisions that directly affect us. State legislatures are the center of most legislation decisions, especially when compared to the U.S. Congress, which is constantly gridlocked and extremely unproductive. 

In 2013 and 2014, the 113th U.S. Congress passed 352 bills and resolutions, according to CQ Roll Call data. By contrast, the legislative bodies in all 50 states and Washington DC passed a whopping 45,564 bills and resolutions in that same period. 

The efficiency of state legislatures can be either good or bad. In more progressive states, local and state governments have passed laws that enact more progressive legislation as compared to Congress. However, for states like Idaho, the state legislature produces harmful legislation that directly impacts individuals and is passed without many people’s knowledge.

The 10th amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that all powers not given to the federal government are reserved to the states and the people, which create an opportunity for states to create legislation that most do not see on a national level. 

For example, legislation regarding abortion has become dependent on which state you live in. While Roe v. Wade affected the way many conservative states handle abortion policy, it is also important to note that Roe v. Wade does very little to restrict states’ power. Many conservative states had made it almost impossible for women to get abortions by shutting down most abortion clinics, while at the same time upholding Roe v. Wade. 

So, why do people rarely vote in local and state elections when the legislation directly affects them, perhaps more than most national politics? It comes down to the fact that the information that we receive on U.S. politics is almost always national, and with local and statewide newspapers continually going out of business, regional news coverage is getting worse. 

Even with access to local and state news coverage, no one is reading it. One study found that 99 percent of respondents in a typical media market never visit websites dedicated to local news. This leads to little to no local and state coverage on politics and less opportunity to hold incumbent state legislators and their opponents accountable. 

Our country was founded with the intention to have extremely localized institutions, but our political coverage and political beliefs are extremely nationalized. We rarely know who our state legislators are, what their policies are and if anyone is running against them during elections. As voiced by John Oliver, this creates numerous unopposed incumbents with unchecked power and little regulation.

So, what can we do? Although it is important to acknowledge that voting in state and local elections is extremely important, it is not enough. We need grassroots organization, representation, money and time to be invested at the state level into progressive candidates who work in swing states and republican states. 

Future Now is an organization that brings money and awareness to create progressive legislation and produces progressive candidates who can flip state legislation and general political orientation.

It has become increasingly clearer that national politics, while important, have become the centerpiece of political discussion. We must make room and deepen our understanding of state-wide politics in order to create lasting and concrete changes while also uniting our state governments.