Sunday, September 2, 2012

Bottom Up Politics

In the past I've spent way too much time on presidential politics.  Even now, I'm spending too much time on presidential politics.  For good reason, I think.  What happens in Washington D.C. does have a pretty big impact on what happens in Tempe, AZ.  Certainly, those people who have enrolled in the military over the past 10 years and had to leave friends and family to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan were profoundly affected by the Bush presidency.  I believe the severe recession of 2008 was inevitable, but perhaps a more aware executive branch could have muted its immediate affects and then followed up with a faster recovery.  The economy obviously affects us all.

More profoundly, I've tried hard to get involved in local politics only to find the issues that dominate national news drip down to almost every local election. Bush introduces "No Child Left Behind" with its emphasis on school choice, vouchers, high stakes testing and every candidate from the local school board elections to the state governor has something to say about it on the campaign trail. I'm still amazed that Republicans want lower taxes no matter how localized office is.  Republican presidents want lower federal taxes. Republican governors want to cut state taxes.  Republican mayors want to cut property taxes and so on.  There seems to be very little difference between issues discussed during a presidential campaign and the legislative district race. If you're interested in politics at all, then you have to pay attention. The top of ticket sets the agenda and the rest of the candidates seemingly fall into line.

The final reason national elections matter is because the success or failure on the top of the ballot has a significant affect on what happens down the line. If you have a popular Republican president running for office, chances our Republican candidates for congress, state legislatures, governors, mayors and every one else who happens to be on that same ballot will benefit.

What I hope to do, in my own small way, is to turn this upside down. My vote really doesn't matter that much at the national level.  My state goes one way or the other, and anything I say or do just gets lost in the noise. I'd like to believe I have a bigger influence locally. If I can push for say, Paul Penzone for sheriff, this gets Democrats excited and voter turn out increases. A person shows up excited to get Joe Arpairo out of office, but now are forced to consider Kyrsten Sinema for Congress, Rick Carmona for Senate, and of course, Barack Obama for president.

And I have a greater chance to make a bigger difference locally. It is a smaller scale election, so my vote counts more. When I am able to canvass (trying as I do to bring my kids with me), each door I knock on, each conversation I have, each extra voter I am able to bring out to the polls makes more of a difference. I can donate a dollar to the Obama campaign which is like dust in the wind in these millions of dollars campaign, or I can donate money to my state legislature candidates where every single dollar matters so much more.

There's this bumper sticker phrase out there that says, "Think globally, act locally", or something like that.  This is what I want to do more of. Focus on local issues:  crime in Tempe, school quality in Arizona, my local economy. I have more opportunity to drive the discussion locally and in so doing drive voter turnout. As we are able to drive issues from the bottom up, we can start to have a stronger influence about what gets done from the top down.