One of the reasons so many of us in today’s America feel angry and hopeless is the effect of what has been called the “nationalization of politics.’ That nationalization has been facilitated by the media we consume , which reports almost exclusively on national news– local newspapers that still exist increasingly confine their coverage to sports and crime and no longer regularly cover local government and politics.
As an article from Vox recently confirmed, America may have local political institutions, but it increasingly has a nationalized politics–and for a number of reasons, that needs to change.
If you own a home and pay local taxes, have children in the public schools (or depend in any way on an educated population and/or workforce), live in a neighborhood where public safety is a concern (and that’s pretty much every neighborhood), you have a big stake in what happens locally–and as I posted a couple of days ago, those local races also matter more politically than most people realize.
So why is participation in local electoral politics so anemic?
The overwhelming majority of Americans consume disproportionately more news about national politics than about state and local politics. In one analysis, 99 percent of respondents in a typical media market never visited websites dedicated to local news. In a typical local election, fewer than one in five citizens bother to vote.
The last several decades have seen the standardization of parties across state lines. I recently saw a website in which a Republican running for a local office described herself as “pro life, pro gun, pro God.” (I’m sure God is grateful…) There was no explanation why any of this should matter–I’m pretty sure she was running for a position where she would have little or nothing to say about any of those issues. She was just signaling her Trumpist “brand.”
I’m sure this “homogenization” of partisans makes it easier for voters, who can just vote based on the R or D next to a candidate’s name. But when everyone running for office is a clone, the individual candidates themselves don’t much matter.
But the short-term convenience of standardized brands comes at a long-term cost for democratic accountability: If local candidates know that they won’t be evaluated on anything more than the D or R after their name, it changes how they think of their role. What can they do if their electoral fate depends almost entirely on national tides? As Hopkins writes, “Today’s vote choices are simply too nationalized for politicians to build much of a reputation separate from their party’s.”
The thing is, in the cities we inhabit, candidates and local institutions do matter–a lot!– and local efforts to support good candidates are much more productive than a few dollars sent to Beto O’Rourke, et al (although I hasten to say I plan to do both and you should too.)
And we have some first-rate, “non-clone” candidates running for local offices.
I became interested in our local prosecutor’s race, for example, because my youngest granddaughter–a high-school senior–has been interning in his Conviction Integrity unit. He established that process to review past convictions, to ensure that they had been dealt with properly–to catch errors or miscarriages of justice. When he took office, he also announced that he would focus the (necessarily limited) resources of the office on the prosecution of serious threats to public safety–and those serious threats didn’t include cases involving small amounts of pot.( He got a lot of flak for that from our local culture warriors, but I applauded.)
I recently had a wide-ranging discussion with that Prosecutor–his name is Ryan Mears– and I was impressed not just with his very thoughtful and informed approach to criminal justice issues, but with his commitment to Indianapolis. That commitment is based on a belief that positive change at the local level is both necessary and possible–and that improving our city matters.
I wholeheartedly agree.
Most of us are not in a position to affect national politics, but we definitely are able to make a difference locally. We can work to elect people who genuinely care about their communities–and , not so incidentally, to defeat the local Trump clones who just want to wage culture war and are clearly uninterested in doing the day-to-day grunt work needed to make our communities better places to live. I’ve begun meeting with other candidates for local and state office, and I intend to lend my (somewhat wizened) hand to selected campaigns.
if nothing else, participating in local races will allow me to actually do something–something that potentially matters.
It’s my way of fighting my feelings of political impotence. And maybe it will keep me from being so grumpy…
20 thoughts on “The Importance Of Local Politics”
“Most of us are not in a position to affect national politics, but we definitely are able to make a difference locally.”
National politicians came from local areas; their beginnings were known at the local level and elected from the local level. We continue voting for U.S. Senators and House Representatives at the local level as well as State Senators and Representatives and all other political offices where most national politicians got their start. We have known nationally and locally about Donald Trump’s shady business deals, non-payment of taxes and his sexual escapades from FORTY YEARS of newscasts and the local voters helped put him in the White House and will do so again.
We know more about Stacey Abrams and Georgia politics and Beto O’Rourke and Texas politics than we do about Indiana politicians and their politics. When local media concentrates on national politicians, where do we go for local information? I have received numerous Republican candidate posts on Facebook (which I block) and only two Democratic candidates from Indiana. Yesterday in the mail I received my Retired Indiana Public Employees Association (RIPEA) newsletter with Legislative reports that Democratic Senators David Niezgodski from South Bend, IN and Jean Breaux from Indianapolis and Democratic Representative Gregory Porter of Indianapolis have bills before the Legislature to reinstate the lost 13th Check portion of our retirement funds. I now have those names of Indiana Democratic candidates to research and follow locally.
Even here on the blog (sorry, Sheila); we get information about local Republicans NOT to vote for, we need information about Democratic candidates and those in office to know whether to vote for them or not. Just names or a source of names to research would be a great help to begin cleaning out the local scourge of Republicans.
Sheila, I have the utmost respect for your ability to offer a clear-eyed view of the issues that bedevil us these days. I hope you will share what you learn and give some recommendations of candidates you feel are sincerely interested to solving problems.
We have just entered a period of one party domination of Indianapolis politics, a period we haven’t seen since the early days of Unigov. But now the Democrats are running the show.
Marion County is the best county for Democrats in the state in recent elections. Yes, even better than Lake County. Republicans drew the 25 member council map and Democrats won election in 20 of those seats in 2019. There is not an elected Marion County Republican north of Washington Street.
Washington Township is over 70% Democrat. Pike over 77%. Warren and Wayne are not too far behind. Even the Republican southern townships have been trending more Democrat.
Marion County is no longer competitive for Republicans. It would take a major scandal by a Democratic county officeholder to lose.
You will see a Democratic mayor of Fishers and Carmel, long before you see another Republican mayor of Indianapolis.
How many people from Indy have even a remote idea of who Ryan Mears is? I can just about guarantee that most people will really work to get the information they need about their candidates? The local parties seem to be unable to find ways to disseminate information, which is truly mind boggling given the ability to drill down in nearly every type of media. Maybe they should hire a marketing specialist.
That should be “most people will never really work…”. Sorry for the goof.
Hogsett allowed downtown to be trashed. It’s sickening what happened. I feel sorry for any business trying to survive there. I live, unfortunately, in Marion county but I have NO desire to go downtown for any reason – except for the Gen Con convention. I will never vote democrat
Gail–You live in an alternate reality.
I live downtown; it is thriving. The biggest “messes” are in places where–finally!–multiple street repairs are being done properly, rather than hidden with a quarter-inch of asphalt. Within three blocks of my door are some 40 bars and restaurants; when weather permits, the streets are filled with pedestrians, mostly young. New apartment buildings are being built constantly, in response to demand, and homes in the historic neighborhoods that abut the center are mostly rehabilitated.
We have our problems, but the core of this city is doing quite well.
Before getting involved in local government directly, you may want to step back and create a free press to hold the existing government accountable. Become informed about the players operating behind the scenes and who pulls the levers of power.
You might discover that the local politicos are just rubber stamps like we have in Muncie and Delaware County. I’ve exposed corruption at the City and County levels, including a long tradition of mortgage fraud conducted by county judges, sheriffs department, lawyers (3 of which have been suspended by the Indiana Supreme Court, but not for their part in fraudulent mortgages), and the local police department.
I tried to convene a press conference with the three County Commissioners through their lawyer – they chose not to comment. I then asked our State Rep Elizabeth Rowray to conduct a press conference – no response from her publicist.
Do you think the Gannett-owned newspaper is interested in this story of corruption? Nope, they not.
Gannett is owned by the Japanese conglomerate Softbank. It has been since 2019, so those with “Gannett” newspapers in Indiana, you’re being lied to. This includes the IndyStar.
After addressing the City Council, it was evident they are all rubber stamps for the local oligarchy, regardless of party stripes.
Ball State University runs our school district, which picks its board members, yet local citizens still pay property taxes for the schools.
A free and independent press reveals that not only the government is corrupt, so is our press. I’m not saying that every community in Indiana is like Muncie/Delaware County, but it wouldn’t take long to find out as I did. Once you start disclosing the truth and know how to protect sources, you’ll find sources coming out of the woodwork to tell you their encounters.
My neighbors don’t trust the government or the press for obvious reasons.
I am now researching tax protests, specifically property taxes, since our local government is corrupt and not responsive. It should be interesting, and I know many others are reaching the same conclusion.
Lastly, those educated taxpayers/residents/voters who are properly armed with the facts agree regardless of their historical party stipes. Amazing what an informed populace can learn and unify together for a common purpose. 😉
I suggest starting with an independent press is my suggestion based on experience.
Many emerging root causes here…death of local newspapers, people moving to places where people who think like them live, computerized gerrymandering….
Great piece! I have to challenge Paul Ogden though. As Monroe County Democratic Party chair, I think we can lay claim to how Democrats can run the board. We hold 6/7 County Council seats, the entire county commission and all countywide offices, the entire City of Bloomington Common Council and executives, the majority of township boards and our 71% of our precinct committee races have candidates on the ballot. We also seem to have a hard stop in certain townships, but they have been purpling since 2012.
The reason for this is that we have a lot of local interest in local offices. Some of the hardest working Democrats here are those running for township boards, given the natural mission of their charitable works and Democratic politics.
Having said this, I am glad we have more than a few blueberries in the bloodbath.
“Alternate Reality” says the person sending
money to Beto???! That’s funny 🤣🤣🤣
Sheila, the candidates you have chosen to help are very fortunate and I hope they win their elections.
LOL – money to Beto? What a smart guy! Tell Texas folks he is going to take away their guns? A purrfect example of why the DEMS are lost. The GOP would NEVER let an idiot like that run (when they have a chance of winning)….
My daughter is very active in local Democratic politics here in Bloomington and Monroe County. She is a member of the Planning Commission and acts as its representative on the Board of Zoning Appeals. She has chaired two Democratic candidates’ campaigns for Congress and has been quite active in campaigns ranging from township trustee to that of Mayor Pete.
I was in my day active in politics (including a stint on Birch Bayh’s Campaign Committee in his first run for the Senate in 1962) and have been voting Democratic since Truman, but I was never as active as she is. Sheila is right, and her recitation of a mere 20% who vote in local elections is a threat to more than winners and losers; it is a threat to democracy itself measured by a “Use it or lose it” civic yardstick.
I just have to say,
I find it interesting that all of the right-wing Vladimir Putin lovers seem to be a little quiet. Now as Push has gone way past Shoving, everyone can see an example of how world war II got started. And how an authoritarian government can plunge the entire planet into chaos.
All of these evangelicals that talked about how great Vladimir Putin was, I wonder if they’ve changed their tune one iota? And, I highly doubt that they have.
It’s not about doing right, it’s about ego and power. Vladimir Putin is no different than Adolf Hitler, he’s actually throwing the same people in prison that Hitler did! When religion plays with fire, they’re going to get burnt. That’s what I mean by history being cyclical. Those who like history can draw the comparisons very easily. Those who live in areas where they are trying to rewrite history or burn books, mostly they don’t have a clue!
Humanity does the same stupid crap over and over and over again. And when it happens, those who despise it, can’t ever get their act together to fight against it before it causes untold grief and angst. And, depletes the treasuries of governments around the globe.
Now would be the time to put it to individuals who seemed to adore Vladimir Putin, do you still like him? Do you still agree with Trump? Hold their feet to the fire and make them explain their position. The Nazis will definitely reveal themselves!
They need to talk about what really matters to Hoosiers.
Examples – All of the torn up and vacant buildings and houses that need to rehabbed or torn down. These exist in every city and towns accross Indiana. Give towns and cities more powerto hold land lords and home owners responsible ffor their properties. Give out money people on fixed incomes money to fix up their houses.
Trees that are dying from diseases and insect investations. Plant trees that arre immune to both of these problems.
Push ROTC programs in every school district. A high schoolers who signs up for the army right out of high school advances one rank right out of basic training. The government will pay for college if a student enters the ROTC program in college.
Expand career centersto three years. Lets face it most of the students that attend these schools don’t care about the regular high school classes. Teach math that they truly need. How to calculate square footage for a room, metric, nurses programs howto measures medicines and all so more.
Then the Democrats should “laugh about all the silly social issues that do not apply to the normal hoosiers.
Then bring up thenegitivesof Tiktok which a large segment of the7th grade thru seniors have on their phones –
Your Kid Could Potentially Get Exposed to Sexual Predators.
It’s prone to negative, racist, homophopic comments
offensive (cussing) language, to name just a few.
A student can see and read anything they want on theirphones at school.
Lastly the Democrats should laugh at all theRepublican social issues and state that it
is all Washington elitist and millionaire media personalities pushing their social agendas.
They don’t have a clue what Hoosies want and need in our great state of Indiana.
See so simple!
I always get a chuckle out of the Republicans saying that the Democrats will take your guns away, when in reality they have been saying that since as far back as I can remember and I’m 75. The Democrats have never tried to take our guns away and never will. It’s the Trumpsters who will cause it to happen if ever does happen.
Before COVID I did an informal survey. Out of 304 people asked, 16 knew the name of their representative in the Indiana House of Representatives, Senate, or City County Council.
The future for independent local newspapers, which are essential to democracy and the cultivation of social capital, is clearly online. There are wonderful, successful examples that deserve to be studied and emulated (including their financial models). I left Indiana for Farmington, Maine, where the Daily Bulldog is a wonderful example of an online local daily. I subsequently left the U.S. for Canada. Here on Vancouver Island the Capital Daily, which is based in Victoria, is another great example.
Totally agree. I’m working to restart my podcast. I can’t run for office, but I can help educate the ignorant masses.
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