Vote local; it matters most of all

This inscription may be found over one of the entrances of Mesabi East High School in Aurora, Minnesota. (PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown)

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Every day the children board the school bus. Begrudgingly, perhaps, but they go. We drive to work, quickly or slowly, depending on our enthusiasm and/or punctuality. People walk the streets, gathering in coffee shops and gas stations to jaw over the day’s news. At dusk, the parks and trails. By night we find the theaters, restaurants and bars. These images provide a picture of regular life, but specifically life here in our community.

And if you watch TV or surf the internet, you’d think all of that was going to end tomorrow if Tuesday’s election goes the wrong way. We know that’s just not true.

Mind you, the election is important. The choices matter. Our future depends on your participation. But for reasons we so seldom consider. We’re not just voicing our loyalty in a tribal feud; we’re governing ourselves in a democracy.

Like many of you, I hold strong opinions about national politics. And yes, I will express these opinions with my ballot this Tuesday. But that’s not what I’m going to write about today.

After all, if the horrifying violence, charged rhetoric and onslaught of negative advertising isn’t enough to make you angry about the state of our nation, a sternly-worded local newspaper column serves no purpose whatever. If you’ve read this far, you already plan to vote.

Rather, I’d argue that each of us can do more with our vote by thinking locally.

Remember the scene? The kids going to school? The streets? Your local school board, city council and county board influence those things much more than statewide or national offices.

Take Northern Minnesota’s closely-watched race for Congress in the 8th District. Here, you join almost 300,000 voters who will decide just one out of 435 members of the House of Representatives. But for many local races, we are one out of just a few hundred. As a reporter I covered dozens of local races decided by a handful of votes, usually a few each election. That happens very rarely in statewide races.

Further, we often prepare the least for the local races. I don’t excuse myself from this observation. Even today, I’m still learning about some of the candidates running for local office. I don’t doubt some among you have your top line votes all set, but perhaps haven’t even considered who you might vote for in local offices.

This is counterintuitive.

I’ve worked in politics. Covered politics. I’ve absorbed politics into my blood like lead paint. Take it from me, the thing that makes a difference is a good local government. Active. Forward-thinking. Visionary. Prudent with its resources.

Does this describe your local government? Your school board? No matter where you live, this is the question you should carry into the voting booth. And guess what? It works pretty well on those other races, too.

The nice thing about a good local government is that it leaves room for all of us. If you’re the only Democrat in a sea of Republicans, you can still be a local leader. The only Republican in your neighborhood? Doesn’t mean you can’t be a good neighbor, someone who makes a difference. This isn’t true in Congress right now, but it can be true here.

Your local paper has published a voter guide showing the views of candidates for local office. If you haven’t yet, review it. But the nice thing about local elections is that you don’t have to limit yourself. You can call the candidates, visit with them, and talk to people who know them. They live close to you. They walk the same streets and drive the same roads.

Democracy isn’t just voting. It’s about using our votes to govern ourselves wisely.

If we fail to do so, we will be governed at all levels by those who do not know us or have our best interests in mind. That is what’s truly at stake in this election.

So don’t sweat it. Go about your business. Vote. Gas up the truck. Call your friend. Life will go on, and so will our democracy. That is, if we nurture it as lovingly as we should.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.


Comments

  1. David Gray says:

    Good essay. Local government like township and town government is non-partisan and most of the work isn’t directly impinged on by ideological concerns. If you serve on a township board of supervisors you spend most of your time dealing with road related issues. It can be an opportunity for a relatively non-partisan political experience. Although for some of the same reasons it can become rather personality focused in some circumstances.

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