Are you voting today or, alternatively, did you already vote early in your municipal elections?
If the answer is no, and you also spend a lot of time obsessing over national politics, you either are ignorant or a hypocrite.
No government affects you as much as your local city, school board or other neighborhood taxing entity. A city government decides how to zone your community, meaning it can effectively decide where you live and whether your neighbor down the street is a convenience store, a bar or a church.
Cities have, in recent years, passed ordinances in an attempt to keep people from using swear words in certain places or dressing in a provocative way. They can, as Ogden, Utah’s police department did recently, launch campaigns to keep gang members from associating with each other, thereby sending the city into a costly legal battle.
Most of all, they tax you, and they can use that taxing power and the ability to give it away, to provide tax breaks to certain businesses or to obligate you to pay for boondoggles.
In Utah, several cities pledged a part of their sales tax receipts to a fiber optic consortium known as Utopia, which promised to set up a high-speed Internet system similar to a public utility. As a result, many of those cities now are spending valuable sales tax dollars to cover the losses of the system, and some have had to raise taxes.
The school district in my neighborhood, the Jordan School District, has a proposal on the ballot today to raise my property taxes by about $30 a month — which is a lot more than anything President Obama wants to do to me right now.
I learned early in my career that the hottest, most vitriolic political fights take place on the local level, often pitting neighbor against neighbor. The campaign fliers in my mailbox this year have been about as pointed as anything on a national level.
All this, and yet only about 20 percent of registered voters generally will bother to cast a ballot in local elections today.
The irony here is that this is an age in which national politics dominates emails, web sites, Facebook and Twitter. I wish I had a dime for every snarky political comment, left and right, I see on social media each day concerning Congress or the president.
For some perspective, I turn to the Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina, in which a recent editorial quoted J. Eric Oliver, professor of political science at the University of Chicago and author of the book, “Local Elections and the Politics of Small-Scale Democracy.” He said local governments are a “hidden leviathan of American politics.” Together, they account for 10 percent of the gross domestic product and collect about as much in taxes as does Washington.
That won’t come up at your local tea party rally or “occupy” protest (are there still such things?) You ignore this level of government at your own peril.