Local Level Electoral Politics All politics are local --Tip O'Niell--
If your water, sewer or garbage systems fail, who do you call? Your house, your street and the air you breath reek and your quality of life is plummeting, where will you find resources to fix the problem? Certainly not in Washington D.C. or Phoenix. These are local matters that require local solutions. Local government has the most effect on your life. Local politics is where you can have the most impact on government.
Government is our more civilized way of finding solutions and planning for the future. It seems funny that here in Tucson, as in many southwestern cities, we tend to vote for President and federal offices more than we tend to vote for state offices and we tend to vote for local government with a consistent and ridiculously low voter turnout.
If local politics effect us more and give us the best chance to truly make a change in the way we lead our lives, then why don't we care? Additionally, why do we show up in incredibly low numbers to elect a set of mid-town Council Members (example 2005) and increase the number marginally when we elect someone as our Mayor (example 2003).
Simply looking at the numbers, we seem like a city that believes in a strong, centralized government as far away as possible and only seek to become involved locally in response to an angered rhetoric (example: Recall 1977 & General 1979). A good example of this is seen in the successful Recall Election effort of 1977 (see Tucson Weekly, "Down the Drain) funded largely by those outside the city who had no vote within their city controlled water district. When water bills were set to increase, people got mad and turned out to vote. Too bad that we can't seem to act proactively through the ballot box.
Understanding Tucson's election relevancy problem is no easy task. It comes with history, culture and shenanigans. Finding a solution is also no easy task. The best we can do is chip away at the foundation of electoral irrelevancy. We can take the issue seriously a put aside the temptation of the one-shot solution.
Even Year Elections
One very simple solution is to elect our local government at the same time that we elect our state and national leaders. The common comparison of Tucson to Portland Oregon always ignores this little tidbit.
Portland, it is said, had a 93% turnout in their last election and Tucson would do well to find half of that. Portland's Mayoral Election of 2004 did indeed have a large turnout, but we should not ignore that in this presidential election year Oregon was in play and vital to two of the largest presidential campaigns in US history. Pima County, Arizona and Tucson showed up to vote at a rate of 82% when Arizona was seen as vital to few outside the political trenches.
It may follow that people show up to vote when they find the issues compelling and thus vital. It is also possible that electing our city government at the same time may allow us to take advantage of the electoral surge caused by the variety of elections being conducted.
Slow down the Election Treadmill
Here in Tucson we elect in even-year Novembers, with a September primary, for state and national offices and state propositions. Mid-year in March or May we often suffer a city or county "Special Election. The in the following November, with another September primary, we elect city offices and propositions followed in March or May with another "Special Election". The the cycle starts all over again and again...
Is it possible that the Tucson Electorate is just tired?
The common argument for the off-year elections for the city and ,consequently, Spring special elections is that is gives the electorate time to concentrate on the local matters at hand. John Adams once said that "Facts are a sticky things" and it seems that if fewer voters are actually concentrating on these elections, then giving them the off-year a special elections to do it doesn't seem to be working very well.