Starting toward the end of high school and continuing through college I was deeply involved in national and statewide politics. It wasn’t until I graduated college and moved to a new city that I started paying attention to the local politics around me; it was at that point that I realized I should have been doing so all along.
Municipal government and politics are quite odd. The issues are pressing, but not in a way that most political issues are. They typically don’t revolve around things like abortion or Second Amendment rights (although, depending on the location, they certainly can). Instead, they deal with more obscure topics: regulation, taxing districts, public services.
Local government gets largely ignored because what it handles simply doesn’t seem urgent or important, and most do not view it as threatening. However, local issues have a unique bent in the way they are able to diminish liberty.
Take, for example, zoning laws. The state may not tell you if and where you can have backyard chickens, but the Des Moines suburb I grew up in certainly did (we were a couple of blocks outside of the ‘properly zoned’ area, much to my mother’s dismay).
Another example is firework usage. While Iowa designated certain times of year for fireworks to be sold in the state, many municipalities said, “Not on our watch!” Instead of all Iowans finally getting a chance to set off LEGAL fireworks, many had even the limited availability given by the state taken away.
These two issues are fairly lighthearted, but the problems can run much deeper. Do you know what your municipal government is spending money on? How much you’re being charged in local taxes? Accountability is usually greatly lacking at a local level, and most commonly remains that way until somebody starts paying attention.
How about the administration of public services? What about citywide infrastructure projects that go unquestioned? For instance, my city recently just spent more than half a million dollars on bike lanes that they hardly maintain, that are infrequently used, and that are positioned to cause major problems for drivers. I wish there had been more outcry on a local level against this project.
Municipal politics may not be as “sexy” or “exciting” as state and national politics, but they are extremely important. Local governments should respect individual liberties and the free market and need to be held accountable when they fail at this task. Accountability takes involvement.
So start learning about your city or town, your mayor, your . Learn about local leaders and local issues. Maybe the place you call home is in great shape; if not, your involvement could make all the difference.
Featured photo is of Des Moines’ City Hall. PC: Wikimedia Commons