Feel like throwing your phone in the toilet? Social media driving you nuts with its constant red vs. blue ideological gridlock narrative? Well, don’t throw that phone just yet. There are still politics that deserve your attention.
Sure, there are many things the White House controls that affect your day-to-day life. Federal taxes, healthcare policy, the red button that shoots the nukes. Besides the threat of all-out nuclear war, it may be possible we give the federal branch of government too much attention in other arenas. A resident of the United States is governed by laws from at least three different levels of government: federal, state and local. And it’s at the local level that voters pay the least attention, despite this level of government being responsible for the majority of services they use.
Cannabis consumers have a keen understanding of how the different branches of government exercise their power; we consume a federally illegal substance because your state government has chosen to permit medical or recreational marijuana, and your county has decided to permit marijuana to be dispensed. Of course, maintaining this structure relies upon the federal government to not pursue states for breaking federal law, as is the case currently.
The responsibility for administering our elections falls to local government. Is there a more important responsibility in government? Free and fair elections are the basis of democracy, and local government gets it done.
The only thing stopping a shopping mall from popping up next to your house is zoning laws. But who makes these laws, who has the power to change them, and why would they? Through zoning laws, counties and cities control how they grow and make themselves fit to compete in the future. Or, as in the case of our cities shrinking on the tail end of a boom, local government may decide to turn once-residential areas into greenspace.
Do you know people who move to get into a better school district? That’s because your neighboring local government is likely doing a better job than yours, and the power of having the right people in power. According to National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 44.8 percent of national total revenue for the 2012 school year was received from local government.
This is where local government is most keenly felt. What are the conditions of the roads in your area? What are your transport options? According to the National Association of Counties (NAOC), “By providing efficient transportation and transit options such as buses, trains, light rail and subway systems, counties are the driving force connecting communities.” Counties own and maintain 45 percent of America’s roads.
We’re always hearing about the healthcare debate in Washington. Whatever side of the aisle you stand on, regardless, it’s your local government who is charged with delivering those services. And though some counties are large and some small, dollars spent on health quickly stack up; NAOC concluded that counties spend nearly $70 billion dollars a year on community health and hospitals.
Homeowners will be all too familiar with property taxes. Along with sales tax, property taxes are the primary way counties raise tax revenue.
Counties are crucial in maintaining safe communities, as they operate 911 emergency systems and spend about $28 billion on law enforcement annually. There are 3,105 county sheriff and police departments nationwide, and 2,914 counties own a jail or participate in a regional jail. In most cases, county-level police and firefighters respond to crimes and disasters without assistance from other levels of government.
Ever lived in a city that doesn’t have dispensaries, yet in the next town over budtenders outnumber bartenders? This is the result of a city ordinance. It’s a resident’s right to decide what businesses can operate in your area, and if you want a dispensary and don’t currently have one, you need to reach out to a local representative.
It is, of course, the state government that permits medical marijuana. Once the right to access medical marijuana is won, the administration of the system falls to the level of government below: local. There are always local solutions to respect the wishes of local people. When California first permitted medical marijuana, Emerald Triangle counties permitted more plants to be grown than anywhere else, honoring the area’s agricultural past—and planning for its future.
The decisions made at your local government level (especially county) have very tangible effects on your day-to-day life. And you can visit these people! I can’t guarantee you an audience, but you have a better chance of speaking with someone at county hall than at the White House. More importantly, a county commissioner will know your area, and likely already be aware of your issue(s). These are the politics that matter to your everyday life. This isn’t ideological; it’s daily, sometimes dull and specific to constituents. Is it time to switch off Washington entirely? Of course not. But it might be time to focus on another arena that matters just as much.
No two counties are alike. From biggest to smallest, one facet of America’s diversity can be seen in how disparate its counties are. Here’s a look at how they shaped up as of 2016, according to Wikipedia:
- 12 square miles: Size of the smallest county in the U.S., Kalawao County, Hawaii
- 20,057 square miles: Size of the largest county in the U.S., San Bernardino County, California
- 88: Number of residents in Kalawao County
- 10,137,915: Number of residents in Los Angeles
- 69,468: Residents per square mile in New York City (Manhattan), making it the most densely populated country in the U.S.
Keep It Local
It may not be glamorous, but local governments make our daily lives run smoothly—and citizens rarely think about what they do. According to the National Association of Counties, there are:
- 38,968: Elected county officials
- $482.1 billion: Dollars spent
- 3 million: People employed
- 305 million: County residents served