It has been said that politics is a local issue. Given all the attention being paid to this crucial presidential election, it should be remembered that many of the issues affecting us take place on the national level but, as we have seen over the past nearly 4 years of the Obama administration, it is the state-level politicians — the senators and congressmen — who have the ability to support or block efforts that affect the entire nation. While the President has some very real power to push for change there are, with good reason, limitations to his power built into our system of checks and balances. That means choosing the right leaders to support both local agendas and national efforts begin at home. For those who have been distracted, here are just a few local issues that have an impact on national issues.
Public Employee Pensions. After the attempted recall of Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin earlier this year, many were made aware of collective bargaining, the impact of labor unions on a state budget, and the increasing economic divide between the wealthy and middle class. The recall effort didn’t succeed, and what remains is a budgetary imbalance that elected officials blame in large part on unions — a stance that is taken by politicians across the country. In Los Angeles, former Mayor Richard Riordan has made it clear that the pension changes advocated for recently by the city council do not go far enough to fix the city’s budget imbalances so he had introduced a ballot measure to overhaul the way pensions are handled for city workers. Whether one agrees with Riordan or not, cash-strapped state and local municipalities are pensions are a hot topic with nationwide implications.
Marijuana Legalisation. The war on drugs, begun by President Richard Nixon, is arguably the nation’s longest war and, at over $1 trillion since 1970, among the costliest and biggest abject failures. Administration after administration pours valuable human and financial resources into this protracted battle and all the nation has to show for it is an overburdened prison population that supports an ever-expanding ‘Prison Industrial Complex‘. In a move to become more pragmatic about drug use and what constitutes a ‘crime’, states such as Nevada are joining Colorado and Washington in examining their options by seeking to place initiatives on the ballot to legalise marijuana. In smaller efforts, New York’s Governor Cuomo has backed legislation that reduces the penalty from a misdemeanor to a fine. While this may not catch on nationally, the acknowledgement that the war on drugs is not working and has had a huge impact on national politics and international relations is a long overdue step in the right direction.
Voting Rights. Yes, it’s still an issue, and given the voter suppression efforts that have taken place during the presidential campaign it shouldn’t be a surprise. Signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, The Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed discriminatory practises that prevented African-Americans from voting when it prohibited states from imposing any “voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure … to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.” Note:
The Act established extensive federal oversight of elections administration, providing that states with a history of discriminatory voting practices (so-called “covered jurisdictions”) could not implement any change affecting voting without first obtaining the approval of the Department of Justice, a process known as preclearance. These enforcement provisions applied to states and political subdivisions (mostly in the South) that had used a “device” to limit voting and in which less than 50 percent of the population was registered to vote in 1964. The Act has been renewed and amended by Congress four times, the most recent being a 25-year extension signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2006.
Here’s the state and local part of the issue: The requirement currently applies to the states primarily located within the south (including Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia) but certain locales in non-southern areas such as New York, California and South Dakota are also covered because of discrimination against Latinos and Native American among other non-white groups. Though President George W. Bush signed a 25-year extension whereby advance approval would be required by any state attempting to change its voting rules, Chief Supreme Court Justice Roberts sent a strong signal that voting rights could be assaulted on a state-by-state basis when he said in 2009 that this issues “is a difficult constitutional question we do not answer today.” When Roberts implied that sates have improved in not disenfranchising their respective voters he paved the way for less federal oversight of local elections and, therefore, more voter suppression efforts. As of today, the Supreme Court decided against taking any action — but that doesn’t mean it’s a dead issue.
In addition to these issues, other local issues that have national significance include environmental considerations and the manner in which governmental operations are managed. What can you do? Stay tuned in with your local officials to ensure that you get the information you need; there is surely more to follow on each of these issues and many more.