As we continue to focus on the upcoming November elections, specifically the U.S. Senate where there remains a possibility that the Democrats could lose the majority – although not as high a possibility as some Chicken Littles may have us believe – I think this may also be a good time to reflect on a rather potent phrase that the late, great House Speaker Tip O’Neill used to say: “All politics is local.”
I always believed that the meaning of this phrase, and why Speaker O’Neil thought it was so important to understand, is that Average Citizen has a much better chance of making an impact on the local level via his or her locally elected officials – city council, school board, etc. – than through national elections. This was never meant to imply that national elections don’t matter, and we don’t have to look any further than the two-time election of President Barack Obama to verify that. Rather, the message is that it is much easier for Average Citizen to make influential contact with his friendly neighborhood councilperson or school board member than getting an audience with the President of the United States. Similarly, it’s much easier for neighborhood residents to band together and influence local policy on an immediate level.
And local policy does matter. A lot.
As a primary example, let’s take a look at a sadly comical event that took place in my home state of Colorado last week when an elected member of the Colorado Board of Education reportedly said the following, according to The Colorado Independent:
Pam Mazanec, a Larkspur businesswoman who sits on Colorado’s Board of Education, posted on a Facebook discussion thread her concerns that questions asked on the Advanced Placement U.S. history test “portray the negative viewpoint as the correct answer.”
“As an example, I note our slavery history,” she wrote to a woman who teaches AP U.S history. “Yes, we practiced slavery. But we also ended it voluntarily, at great sacrifice, while the practice continues in many countries still today!
“Shouldn’t our students be provided that viewpoint? This is part of the argument that America is exceptional. Does our APUSH (AP U.S. History) framework support or denigrate that position?”
Mazanec was elected in 2012 to the State School Board in Colorado’s overwhelmingly Republican District 4, and she won by the overwhelming margin of 72.2 % to the distant 27.7% earned by her Libertarian opponent, Steven Dellinger. Wasn’t even a Democrat in the race. I’ll confess I don’t know much about Mr. Dellinger, and no matter how much I Google I can’t seem to find out hardly anything about the man or the type of race he ran. But here’s the thing; if someone with views as pathetically twisted and ignorant as Mazanec can be elected so easily to a position responsible for influencing the education of Colorado’s children, and her opponent is a libertarian who barely registers on the existence-meter and the Democrats couldn’t even be bothered to raise a credible opponent? Maybe it’s just me, but I’d say that’s a problem.
But the bigger problem is that candidates like Mazanec slide into not-quite-so-high-profile positions like these all across the country all the time because hardly any of the locals are paying attention – except for the ones stacking the deck. Then, next thing we know, we find ourselves in the streets protesting these crazy policies and wondering how did we get here and how did they get there?
We weren’t paying attention to our own backyard. That’s how.
Keith Owens (AKA Black Liberal Boomer) is a Detroit-based writer who has worked for The Detroit Free Press, Detroit’s alternative newsweekly the Metro Times, the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, and other newspapers. He was also a nationally syndicated columnist with Universal Press Syndicate for three years beginning in 1993.