Today was the filing deadline for local candidates in West Virginia. As with every election cycle local activists were busy calling and meeting with potential candidates to make sure there were contested races for all positions on the ballot.
This is the essence of our democracy. Finding normal citizens who desire to make a contribution to their community by running for and then serving in local offices. These are the unglamourous jobs of tax assessor, county commissioner, sheriff, and other such positions that serve our communities.
The presidential and congressional races may dominate the evening news and the blogs, but local government impacts our daily lives more completely and fundamentally than all the egos in Washington, DC. Step back and remember who picks up our trash, runs our sewer plants, plows our streets, and answers our calls for help.
The recent $44.3 million scandal in the District of Columbia’s tax assessor’s office is a reminder of the importance of electing professional and ethical local officials. When people ask me what can be done to clean-up our politics I always say, “start at the local level”. It is at this level that an individual can truly make a difference and lead tangible and sustainable change.
We tend to forget that America is a federal system for a reason. The basis for our independence from Great Britain was the fact that the thirteen colonies had developed viable local governments and legislatures. This bulwark of local democracy was written into our Constitution. Numerous passages in that document and throughout the Federalist Papers echo this theme of preserving local government. Government should be close to the people. It governs best when it is closest to the need. Only when an issue or threat rises to a national or international level should a national government enter into the equation.
This is quite opposite from the current administration and most Washington politicians. For them the tenth amendment’s limitation on national government is dated and should be ignored. Every minor issue, even personal tragedies, are fodder for national debate and legislation. The drive is for elvating issues to the naitonal level in order to get their faces infront of the cameras. They forget that such selfish actions undermine the basics of our democracy and the protections we have against tyranny.
Another factor in local government is that so much of it is just about good management and integrity. There is no “Republican” or “Democratic” way to collect trash. It is all about being responsive to the needs of the citizenry, capably steward public funds, and assuring that public discourse and decisions follow proper processes.
In this environment voters easily cross party lines and vote for the best candidate without fear of upsetting some national balance of power. Realizing that the best candidate for a local office may be from the other party is liberating. It reaffirms that we are all Americans first and a party member second. Those local officials who rise to congressional seats should remember this basic truism when they enter the Washington arena.