Voters must focus on local and state politics

Gabby Sanchez

In the wake of the election results, many politically active Austinites may feel a wall rising between them and progress. Democrats now wonder where their voice will be heard in a federal government with a potential Republican majority in all branches. When looking at whom the president-elect could select to guide him through the presidency, it looks like the wheel of time has turned backward.

Despite this, many strides have been taken at the local level to keep us moving forward. Austin Mayor Steve Adler announced the assembly of an anti-racism panel starting next year, to focus on institutional racism in five working groups: Criminal & Civil Justice, Education, Health, Finance, Banking & Industry and Real Estate & Housing. It’s efforts like these at the local level that individuals should focus on. The potential for progress over the next four years lies in the local and state government, but only if the people play a role.

Texas voter turnout in the 2014 elections was one of the worst in the nation. If individuals, especially young voters, want to turn things around, more of their focus needs to be on the work that can be done on local and state levels. Government associate professor Eric McDaniel suggests that even though the federal government outlines the overall picture, the local and state governments are the paint that fill the canvas.

“Local level decisions are really about self-interest, where national level decisions are about ideology,” McDaniel said. “The states are much more active at passing policy than the federal government, so often a lot of the policies that you don’t like were probably passed at the state level, not at the federal level.”

One of the primary causes of lack of interest or knowledge could stem from the failure of schools to focus on the workings of local government. Much of what individuals learn about government concerns the federal government. News sources also reflect this idea, where attention is at the federal level, especially during election season. All the while, state and local elections are happening, but receive less focus.

If an individual wants to be more involved and knowledgeable when it comes to state and local government, education is necessary. It’s important for individuals to know how the local government plays a role in their everyday lives and where to channel their energy when something they disagree with happens. Adler has also made promises to protect the immigrant community from the threat of strict laws and deportation, but how to do this is less clear to the public. This is where it becomes important to know who can actually get the work done and whose responsibility it is to do so. Another key part is to contact representatives and elected officials to make one’s goals and problems clear.

“Talk to your member of Congress,” McDaniel said. “They may not be of your party, but make it very clear that you’re watching them. If Democrats and Republican legislature are constantly in contact with one another saying ‘Look we’re watching you, we will mobilize against you’ that person may be less apt to vote on policy that he or she knows violates the interests of the constituents.”

The people’s interest in all parts of our government is crucial for the democratic process. It’s not just about who’s president; it’s about the individuals on city councils, boards of education and in the congress seats. Those are the people who make the everyday decisions, and if the people are not using their vote to give these elected officials their power, then it undermines the system as a whole. 

Sanchez is a journalism freshman from Round Rock. Follow her on Twitter @narwhalieee.