Monday, January 21, 2008

How local your politics

"All politics is local." - Tip O'Neill

Just how local they should be when it comes to issues of national and foreign policy, though, is the question being taken up by our state government. The Republican dominated Assembly recently passed legislation that would allow cities and villages the option of refusing citizen's petitions if the issues they raise don't relate to local governance. This was spurred on by the many anti-war petitions that were brought (24 of 32 of which actually passed) by residents in various locations around Wisconsin last year. The measure is not expected to pass the Democrat held Senate.

Still, the bill does bring up an interesting issue: should individual citizens have the right to bring and vote on measures having to do with issues that effect more than just their towns?

Dave Zweifel at the Capital Times thinks that they should, and argues his case in an opinion column in today's issue. The comments section is almost entirely full of people arguing against him, and they bring up some fascinating points.


Anyone who thinks that a war that has already cost this nation more than a half-trillion taxpayer dollars hasn't affected the treasuries and services of local governments deserves a medal for naivete.

True, there is no direct action a local government can take to get Congress or the president to change course. But if enough local citizens are able to express their views on ballots throughout the land, perhaps the message will finally get through.

Commenter OnWisconsin:

It prevents a highly organized but small group of local zealots from wasting a communities time and money grinding an axe about a national issue.

Keep in mind that this cuts both the Iraq war but maybe tomorrow anti-abortion votes or prayer in school, for example.

Commenter Judy:
Our country's citizens have the privilege of voting in our politican's [sic] to public office! It should end there, and we should then lead our private lives, and let them do the jobs we appointed them to do..If they don't, vote for someone else next term!
First, I'm amazed that anyone would see voting as a privilege and not a right. The right to vote is one of the most important tenets of our society. Many of our ancestors fought for, and sometimes died for, this very right: first in the American Revolution, then again in the Civil War, the women's suffrage movement, the civil rights movement, and so on and so forth. We are still fighting to make sure everyone who is eligible is able to cast their vote, struggling against those who would still seek to disenfranchise and intimidate citizens, even now in the 21st century.

Second, while I can wrap my head around the argument that such a bill "prevents a highly organized but small group of local zealots from wasting a communities time and money grinding an axe about a national issue," what it seems to come down to, yet again, is the right of all citizens to have a voice and influence, even if just in a very small dose, on the direction of their country.

Comparing those who would bring a petition to officially make a position known to those who would bring a petition to actually change state and national laws is also erroneous. They aren't the same thing in the least. If an anti-abortion activist wanted to bring a petition to their local government stating an opposition to the practice, they have every right to do so. The petition wouldn't (and shouldn't) change the law, but it would put it to public record just how many people in that town were for or against such a statement. That sort of record can be a handy reference point for future policy makers, too.

We should be encouraging people to take a more active interest and role in local politics. And by local, I mean global. They are, after all, inseparable.

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