Today was Election Day in Ohio. In New Albany, we had a very thin ballot: no state or county issues, a few judicial contests — and races for local offices.
They say all politics is local, and there’s some truth to that. Decisions made by small-town councils, by school boards, and by other local government instrumentalities can have a profound and immediate impact on you and your neighbors. Why is it so difficult, then, to get meaningful information about local government races?
For national and statewide races, we’re bombarded with information. Commercials flood the airwaves. Fliers are sent in the mail and left under the front doormat. Reporters and bloggers cover the candidates’ every word for months. By the time the big day rolls around, voters have experienced total information overload.
For local races, however, the opposite is true. There are no commercials or door-to-door missives. There might be a story or two in the local weekly newspaper, and perhaps a candidates’ forum — but who has time to attend one of those? So you pay particular attention to the views of your neighbors, even to the point of trying to remember which signs are displayed in the yards of neighbors who seem like intelligent, thoughtful people whose judgment you can trust.
I always vote, and today was no exception — but I always feel that my vote on local races is much less informed than my vote on more prominent races, and that bothers me. I wonder whether this information gap is why so few people vote in “off-year” elections where only local offices are on the ballot.
Recently I read a letter that author Stephen King had written to his 16-year-old self as part of a collection called Dear Me: A Letter to My 16-Year-Old Self. King’s advice to himself was “stay away from recreational drugs” — advice which, if heeded, would have allowed King, a self-described “junkie waiting to happen,” to avoid a ten-year dark period.
The letter got me to thinking about what I might say to my 16-year-old self, a callow, insecure, yet arrogant kid now buried deep under countless layers of memory and experience and middle-aged weight. I decided I wouldn’t try to give any life-altering guidance, because I’m quite happy with how things turned out. I’m mindful of the theory of the butterfly effect, where even a slight change might drastically alter the course of your life. So even though I’ve made countless bad decisions and behaved in mean-spirited and embarrassing ways, I don’t think I would change any of that. In fact, I like to think that making those bad decisions, and suffering the consequences, ended up being a positive thing that helped me to grow and mature as a person. Perhaps I’m rationalizing a bit, but I believe that although lessons from the school of hard knocks might be painful at the time, they tend to be lessons well learned.
So, my advice to myself would fall into the platitude category, and therefore would likely be utterly ignored by that know-it-all teenager with the bad ’70s haircut. Things like “don’t worry about being popular in high school, it means nothing after you graduate” and “the world doesn’t revolve around you” and “try to be nice to people.” The other nugget would be: “buy fewer things and take more vacations.” I’ve been as much a participant in our consumer culture as anyone, and now I look at closets and cupboards filled with stuff that we don’t use and don’t need. I’d much rather have less stuff and more wonderful memories of trips to faraway places with Kish and the boys.