Local government matters (now more than ever)

Voting cartoon

By Alex White, columnist ~ “Small towns, big potential”

As we learned in last Thursday’s forum with the seven candidates seeking public office in Luray, local officials have an outsized influence on the quality of our lives. In just two hours of discussion, we touched upon a whole cacophony of issues that Washington, D.C. (and Richmond, Va.) often fail to address, including economic development, educational opportunity, cost of living, affordable housing, and taking care of senior citizens.

I stand by what I said about that forum—you’re going to get all “fired up” about the presidential election, but local officials are the ones that are going to have a direct impact on your life.

Unfortunately, many people disagree. These folks obsess over the vast national implications of 2020, while ignoring the local races through which they can truly see consequential change in their day-to-day lives. 

By that, I mean to say that the races lower down the ballot have a higher chance of actually making a measurable impact on your everyday life. The races at the top, conversely, just have a higher chance of making you angry.

Given that, we should participate in local politics as if our lives depend on it…because they do!

After all, this year has reminded us that local government will:

  • Determine the nature (and extent) of crisis response;
  • Decide the scope (and role) of public safety institutions;
  • Direct the operations of essential public services ;
  • Shape our community atmosphere (and quality of life).

Just look at the headlines: local officials have even had to decide whether or not our children will be able to do something as basic as returning to school. That kind of debate is unheard of in recent history, yet it is emblematic of the newfound vitality of local officials as they set lockdowns, tackle COVID relief, and choose how to spend a deluge of newfound grant dollars.

So please — watch the forum, research the candidates, ask the tough questions, and never let them forget who they really work for. 

Better yet: maintain that energy after the election. We all have it in our power to serve on committees, write letters, and watch public meetings. There is no reason that political participation can’t be as much of a community pastime as local sports or going to the fair.

Politics may be all that we have this year. Let’s make the most of it and reap the rewards of getting involved in the life of our community.

In an unconventional year like 2020, we have more options for doing that than ever before (including online town meetings and increased alternative voting); it’s time that we use them.

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Jack “Alex” White is a student at Harvard University, where he is studying Government. While there, he has become the Policy Director for Harvard Undergraduates for Bipartisan Solutions (HUBS) and Senior Content Editor for the Harvard Economics Review. Alex is a lifelong native of Page County and graduate of Luray High School.

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