Debate season has officially started; you’re probably just now starting to see your Facebook and Twitter feeds return to a sense of normalcy after the social media storm that followed the September 26th debate. Not to worry, the next one is just around the corner and your Facebook friends will once again become overnight activists, lawyers, and fact-checkers. Heated arguments will consume your news feeds and pundits will bellow on TV, eager to dramatize every moment that could boost ratings.
I am not going to tell you who to vote for and I’m not going to enumerate reasons why one candidate is better than any other; it wouldn’t matter if I did. Instead, I would like to draw your attention to the elections that could matter a heck of a lot more: state and local elections.
Yeah, I’ve seen it, too. The push to get people interested in their community. It’s a tough sell. We’ve become less community-oriented as a society; maybe it’s job market or homeownership trends, relocation patterns, or generational differences. Who even knows their neighbors anymore? But this isn’t entirely true everywhere. Some cities have become fragmented, but within these cities, and all around the country, pockets of tight-knit communities still thrive. We do still care about one another, our families, and communities, even if those definitions are changing.
So why the emphasis on state and local elections? For one thing, our country has shifted; our government looks much different than it did in the 70s. When we think of environmental policy successes, the big hitters come to mind, like the EPA, or the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and a whole list of other major regulations that exploded out of the 70s and 80s. For the most part, the biggest environmental policy measures and regulations were introduced in this era, and achieved largely through acts of Congress. So it’s not erroneous to associate environmental policy with federal action, and thus the emphasis on federal elections.
But it’s not the 70s.
We can belabor the fact that Congress has become stagnant and we can argue why or who is at fault.
We could complain about Congress’s 11% approval rating.
We could pay attention and vote wisely in our local elections. The governor, our senators, representatives, state senators and representatives, mayors, police chiefs, education boards, judges – all of these people shape the social and political climate of a state, county, or town.
The presidential race will not determine who your Governor will be, or how your state senate is elected. The presidential race will not “fix” Congress. In fact, one could argue that any new president is likely to be limited in their ability to effect change if Congress is still stalled. There are reasons to vote for a president, like the Supreme Court seats, but there are equally important reasons to vote in your state and local elections.
States have been leading the charge for renewable energy and emissions regulation. State and local governments are the ones addressing land, water, air, and waste issues within a state. Sometimes a president can step in and enforce temporary blocks or suspensions of activity, so having an environmentally-friendly president can be a nice perk, but there is only so much a president can do. It is up to each state to make laws and policies that affect the environment.
These 10 states are leading in solar power. These 29 states have enacted renewable energy standards for utilities. This list ranks each state by its environmental rating, with Vermont, Oregon, and Washington taking first, second, and third. Oregon and New York just passed groundbreaking bills that address climate change, emissions, and clean energy. These bills should also include initiatives that will help communities build sustainable livelihood and at the same time lessen the hazardous waste through a superfund site.
States are beginning to step up and pass policies that matter to their voters, and not just environmental laws, but gun control, healthcare, education reform, campaign finance reform, civil rights, and marijuana use. It is very easy to get frustrated and discouraged because of politics, we are all feeling it. Regardless of our political views, we all share feelings of helplessness and dissatisfaction. There are valid reasons to feel that way, but it’s better for us, and for our country, to not despair. It’s better instead to vote intelligently – in state and local elections – and with the conviction that our vote matters.