Tea Parties Go Local

In my eight years of political involvement, one issue has continually caused me a great deal of consternation: voters perpetual lack of focus on local politics. Certainly given where I’ve been (field work) I’ve heard more of it–the usual moans of “I only vote in presidential elections.” And why not? It’s that quaddrenial affair that gets the most coverage in the mainstream media, a focus that begins almost the minute the final votes are counted in Hawaii. Heck, in 2004 people were already talking about Romney in 2008 BEFORE ANY votes were cast.

I wouldn’t have much of a problem with this if it weren’t for the fact that my anectdotal evidence jives up with the hard fact that turnout is nearly always way down in non-presidential elections. Even here in Virginia, where political conflict is a way of life for many, turnout was down a full 33% from last year. Even in 2006, when the Allen-Webb Senate race got a great deal of national attention, turnout was just 52%, up 7% from the Gubernatorial race the year before but down almost 19% from the 2004 Presidential election.

This trend can play out differently locally. In 2003 in my own Shenandoah County turnout for the five way Sheriff’s race (one Republican, one candidate who had gotten the nomination four years prior, and three who liked to tout their various Republican credentials) was nearly 49%, which was roughly 4% higher than the State Senate race that same year. Yet even given an oddball race where a substantial number of voters turned out given personal connections to the candidates and just didn’t vote in the other races, turnout was still down a full 23% from the prior Presidential election in 2000.

Again, I certainly understand the perspective of voters who stay at home during local races. Some may just not know the candidates that well, given that they may not be natives. Some simply have the perspective that the President, for lack of a better phrase, is leader of the freaking free world, and therefore their vote in that race will have more effect on their lives than any other. More troubling, though, is those who just don’t care about local politics at all.

Yet it is at the local level where the parts of governing that most affects our everyday lives happens. Police, trash pickup, firefighters, building and zoning, business permits–all of these things that intensely affect our day to day living all occur at the local level. Notice anything that I left out? Ah yes–education. Though the influence of state and federal politics on public schools is undeniable, most school districts receive most of their funding at the local level and in many places take up the largest share of the local budget.

That’s why in my recent post about what to do with the tea party movement I showered plaudits upon those groups who have taken it upon themselves to serve as watchdogs ACROSS the spectrum of government. Conservatives understand that local government can nickel and dime us just like any other level of government and that despite their responsibility to “keep the trains on time” they still have a moral obligation to ensure the prosperity of their citizens by not unduly interfering with our lives to a point as to hamper individual initiative. Certainly, these groups have existed before–indeed, an entire book could be written on the history of watchdog groups in both Shenandoah and Augusta counties and how these groups intersect with inter-party conflict. Yet the increased awareness of government intrusion in our lives has brought new life to many of these groups.

That’s why I’m very excited to hear of this development in Staunton. From the Augusta Conservative:

According to the News Virginian, Tea Party Director Richard Armstrong has thrown in his hat for the Staunton City Council seat vacated by now State Delegate Dickie Bell. The Tea Party has gotten much more active as the political atmosphere has become more charged. Armstrong, 63, is a former Detroit police officer and Navy veteran. He stated that Staunton is not friendly to business and he wants to work toward fixing that. The Staunton City Council is interviewing people to fill the seat until a special election in May 2010.

The Augusta Conservative himself is in the running for a local Board of Supervisors seat. I make it my rule not to become too involved in races outside of where I live, as I feel its up to both primary and general election voters to decide who they think best represents their views. However, I think it should hearten any conscientious conservative to see their like minded brethren put their money where their mouth is in local government. I applaud anyone who takes on this challenge.

I still don’t know entirely what to make of the Tea Party movement as a whole, but as long as they are awakening citizens to government’s role at all levels, they’re doing good work.

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