Local Election Day blues

Where I live, we are just voting today for local elections.  We just have a state senator to pick and a number of county offices.  But for the last several months we have been subject to getting multiple automated phone calls a day conducting polls, demonizing opponents, and scaring us into voting for particular candidates.  Opposition research, negative campaigning, and hyperbolic rhetoric have trickled down into local elections.   (The last robocall I answered insinuated that one candidate’s support of the 2nd Amendment made him liable for the shootings at Virginia Tech.)  Apparently, local candidates are hiring out of state firms to provide these political services.   (I answered an automated call from Olympia, Washington, telling us who to vote for in a race for county sheriff!)

The theory is that local government is closer and more responsive to individual citizens, who elect their neighbors to represent them in public office.  National government, by contrast, is more remote.   Reformers are calling for a smaller central government with more power devolving to state and local governments.

But what if state and local governments are likewise dysfunctional, bound just as much to special interests and oblivious to the civic virtues?

It is true that local issues often finesse the liberal/conservative polarization that has paralyzed the national government.  The divisions in many local governments are on the order of “pro-development” (uniting free-market pro-business conservatives and pro-jobs liberals) vs. “anti-development” (uniting conservatives who want to preserve the pristine character of the community and anti-capitalist environmentalists).  Although I don’t see a civic consensus being possible with that kind of polarization either.

Perhaps this kind of political strife is intrinsic to democracy.  Still, having lived in a number of communities not all that different from where I live today, I don’t remember local elections being like this.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Joe

    “But what if state and local governments are likewise dysfunctional, bound just as much to special interests and oblivious to the civic virtues?”

    In general, it is a lot easier to toss the bums out at the local level.

  • Joe

    “But what if state and local governments are likewise dysfunctional, bound just as much to special interests and oblivious to the civic virtues?”

    In general, it is a lot easier to toss the bums out at the local level.

  • Tom Hering

    Joe @ 1, I disagree, for the simple reason that most citizens don’t concern themselves with local issues, much less the details of local issues. So it’s very hard to unseat the unethical or incompetent, short of a full-blown scandal. Locals prefer to just re-elect incumbents, because that’s easiest.

  • Tom Hering

    Joe @ 1, I disagree, for the simple reason that most citizens don’t concern themselves with local issues, much less the details of local issues. So it’s very hard to unseat the unethical or incompetent, short of a full-blown scandal. Locals prefer to just re-elect incumbents, because that’s easiest.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    With all the dirty tricks and subterfuge in elections these day, there is one surefire (and easy) way to know if you are voting for the right person or measure.

    Get a hold of a voting guide that one of your local unions has sent out to their members. And then just vote the exact opposite.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    With all the dirty tricks and subterfuge in elections these day, there is one surefire (and easy) way to know if you are voting for the right person or measure.

    Get a hold of a voting guide that one of your local unions has sent out to their members. And then just vote the exact opposite.

  • SKPeterson

    We have a city mayoral election, yet I live in the county, and a state senatorial election in another neighboring district, so no election blues here.

    I agree with both Joe and Tom, oddly enough. It often does take a full-blown scandal to raise the ire of the people to throw the bums out, but once that ire is raised, it becomes much easier to actually accomplish this task at the local level. Once one moves beyond a city/county level though, it becomes very difficult to remove a politician, even in the presence of a scandal. Only if political and media pressure is deep and sustained will a politician decide to step down or decline to run for re-election. If they ride it out, or opposition/outrage is muted, they’ll often coast by on voter apathy and inertia to successive terms in office.

  • SKPeterson

    We have a city mayoral election, yet I live in the county, and a state senatorial election in another neighboring district, so no election blues here.

    I agree with both Joe and Tom, oddly enough. It often does take a full-blown scandal to raise the ire of the people to throw the bums out, but once that ire is raised, it becomes much easier to actually accomplish this task at the local level. Once one moves beyond a city/county level though, it becomes very difficult to remove a politician, even in the presence of a scandal. Only if political and media pressure is deep and sustained will a politician decide to step down or decline to run for re-election. If they ride it out, or opposition/outrage is muted, they’ll often coast by on voter apathy and inertia to successive terms in office.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    That’s why I’m glad I no longer have a landline. :D

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    That’s why I’m glad I no longer have a landline. :D

  • steve

    Tom, #2, you’re both right. In theory, Joe is correct that it’s easier to unseat a local politician because one would need fewer votes to do so. Unfortunately, you’re right that people largely ignore the elections that have the biggest impact on their daily lives. Sadly, except for natural disasters, every time a local government has to look to the state or federal level for help, it’s because the voters ignored their responsibilities.

  • steve

    Tom, #2, you’re both right. In theory, Joe is correct that it’s easier to unseat a local politician because one would need fewer votes to do so. Unfortunately, you’re right that people largely ignore the elections that have the biggest impact on their daily lives. Sadly, except for natural disasters, every time a local government has to look to the state or federal level for help, it’s because the voters ignored their responsibilities.

  • steve

    What Steve said @ #3.

  • steve

    What Steve said @ #3.

  • DonS

    The heightened intensity of politics, even at the local level, is due to the ever-larger role government has usurped in our society. Power begets intense effort, and there is power in holding a government office, even at the local level, given the hyper-regulated nature of our culture.

    If you want to cool off the fervor, you have to devolve power all the way out of government, and back into the private sector where it belongs. If a local government candidate insists that they are “pro-development”, and their remedy is anything other than shrinking government back to its rightful role, then they are hacks. If they claim to be “anti-development”, then you know they intend to insert government even further into the private economy, at the expense of the jobs they claim to care about.

  • DonS

    The heightened intensity of politics, even at the local level, is due to the ever-larger role government has usurped in our society. Power begets intense effort, and there is power in holding a government office, even at the local level, given the hyper-regulated nature of our culture.

    If you want to cool off the fervor, you have to devolve power all the way out of government, and back into the private sector where it belongs. If a local government candidate insists that they are “pro-development”, and their remedy is anything other than shrinking government back to its rightful role, then they are hacks. If they claim to be “anti-development”, then you know they intend to insert government even further into the private economy, at the expense of the jobs they claim to care about.

  • –helen

    That’s why I pulled my land line… 15 months of ersatz “political surveys” leading to appeals for $$$ were more than I wanted to contemplate.
    Now to persuade them to remove the long distance charge (LD cancelled 6 mos ago; this is $5 for NOT having LD!) from the supposed final bill. :(

  • –helen

    That’s why I pulled my land line… 15 months of ersatz “political surveys” leading to appeals for $$$ were more than I wanted to contemplate.
    Now to persuade them to remove the long distance charge (LD cancelled 6 mos ago; this is $5 for NOT having LD!) from the supposed final bill. :(


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