I’m going to make a point I’ve made before; some of you know this drill.
The last few weeks have made painfully clear that we ignore state and local politics at our peril.
Watching what’s happening to women’s rights in Texas (coming soon to another red state near you!) and to public health issues in Florida, Texas, Tennessee, and other red states should concern all of us. Bounties on women are a test case for bounties on LGBTQ people, black people, and members of minority religions. Efforts to deny science and force hospitals to administer ivermectin are a test case for forced conversion therapy, re-implantation of ectopic pregnancies, and an end to birth control.
And all of these horrors spring from state and local government.
They spring from Governors like Greg Abbott in Texas who started out in Texas’ Young Republican Club, was a state trial judge and then on the Texas Supreme Court. He then worked for Bracewell & Giuliani (yes, that one) before being elected as Texas’ Attorney General. After that, he was elected Governor. He’s clearly planning to run for the White House. Someone could/should have shut him down when he was trying to become a trial judge.
They spring from Governors like Ron DeSantis who started as a Florida Congressman and then was elected/stole the Florida Governership. He’s clearly planning to run for the White House. Someone could/should have shut him down when he first smirked his way towards Congress.
Let me contrast Texas and Florida with Virginia. While Virginia was once the heart of the Confederacy, today it stands as a beacon of what the New South can be. With a Democratic Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and Legislature, Virginia has abolished the death penalty, protected the rights of women and LGBTQ people, expanded voting rights, funded rail, regulated guns, taken down Confederate statues and re-named streets, protected school children who eat lunch at school, implemented sensible COVID regulations . . . . The list goes on and on. We have a budget surplus, we’re rated the #1 state for business (Amazon recently located here, drawn by our inclusive policies and well-educated workforce), and we are expanding rural broadband. That didn’t happen overnight. And in Virginia (where we have at least one election every single year), voting starts this week in a tight race for control of Richmond. But Virginia women can get birth control and reproductive care without fear. LGBTQ people can marry, work, buy homes. COVID cases are no where near the levels in Texas and Florida.
But those good results are down to local and state politics. They’re down to grassroots activists doing the not-always-glamourous work of electing county supervisors, who then go to Richmond, who then run for the U.S. Congress, or electing board of education members (trust me when I tell you that Republicans are maniacally focused on local boards of education for a reason) who then run for the county council or the soil and water board and then wind up as judges. Those aren’t the sexy races that make the national news. They’re almost always underfunded and understaffed. But they really matter. It’s just that you don’t realize how much they matter until a Greg Abbott is sicking his bounty hunters on your daughters or pregnant aunts.
One good thing about local and state races is that you can have a much larger impact on them than on, say, a presidential election. Those matter too, but, you know, Barack Obama started out in the Illinois state senate. Joe Biden started out in the county council of New Castle, Delaware.
So what can you do? Spend an afternoon learning what your local and state structure looks like. Start following your representatives on social media. Plug their numbers into your phone and call them regularly with your opinions. Donate to Emerge or Run for Something. Pick a local race and volunteer. They need people to phone bank, deliver yard signs, drop bagels at the campaign office, and, yes, donate. Maybe think about running yourself for sheriff, or the soil and water board, or town council. Do some magic.
Local elections matter.
(I borrowed the image from Facebook and I sadly don’t remember where.)