Three decades ago, House Speaker Tip O’Neill famously said all politics is local. That was true for his day. Politicians in Washington needed to remember that what mattered most for their constituents was what affected their own neighborhoods and the size of their personal tax obligations.
Today, however, it often seems as if all politics is national. Social media concerns itself almost exclusively with Washington and the never-ending tug of war between conservatives and liberals.
But in fact, your local government affects your life more directly and personally than anything that happens in Washington. Your energies are best spent in understanding and studying what happens at city hall, not in following the latest rumors or conspiracy theories concerning a distant federal government.
Today is Primary Election Day in many Utah cities — a day in which voters will whittle lists of candidates to two, who will vie for office in November’s general election. Election clerks have reported dismal interest so far when it comes to voters returning mail-in ballots in the cities that allow that method.
This is more than a shame. It is a dereliction of civic duty. If you live in a place with a primary election today, we strongly urge you to study the candidates and vote.
Municipal races tend to be nonpartisan. That is, candidates do not identify themselves by party affiliation. This is true even in Salt Lake City, where eight candidates are vying for mayor.
Cynics scoff at this as pretense. Political observers tend to know to which party candidates belong. But the truth is that local governments tend to be places where practical solutions trump ideology, and where a person’s feelings about zoning issues, high-density housing and budget priorities are more important than any traditional left-right litmus test.
Chances are good that you will drive somewhere today on a street your city maintains. You will rely on a local government to safely dispose of what you flush in your toilet. If you have an emergency, the police or fire services you require are paid for and managed by your local government.
You pay for these things through local taxes, but you also should know that your mayor or council representative is a phone call away, or perhaps lives near you. You have opportunities to influence their votes or to make sure they hear your concerns. And today, you have a real opportunity to decide who has power.Comment on this story
Utah’s primaries are attracting attention today for a different reason, as well. Two cities in Utah County — Payson and Vineyard — will be trying out ranked-choice voting. This is a system that allows voters to rank candidates according to preference. When the tally begins, last-place finishers will be eliminated, and the ballots that ranked them first will have their second-choice votes recorded — a process that continues until a requisite number of candidates passes a minimum threshold for victory.
Local governments are good places to test these kinds of voting innovations, as well. Depending on how the experiment is received today, ranked-choice voting may expand in Utah, or it may go away for good.
Given how much of everyday life is affected by your local government, this ought to be the election that gets the highest turnout of all. Don’t fall into the trap of judging what’s important by the level of volume it receives on social media.