The Importance of Local Government


Irvine candidates for city council gather at the Candidates’ Forum to discuss their ideas and plans for Irvine. (Source: OC Register)

2016 Irvine Candidates Forum
Irvine candidates for city council gather at the Candidates’ Forum to discuss their ideas and plans for Irvine. (Source: OC Register)

Opinion Editor
As one of the strangest election seasons in America’s history nears its end, so does the season for local elections. While Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump have both proposed programs to overhaul and potentially improve America at the national level, we often brush off national politics as a somewhat annoying side show. National politics clearly serve an important role in influencing international policy and can sometimes benefit lives of citizens, but in reality, local politics are significantly more likely to create real change in the everyday lives of residents.
Obviously, the national government has certain important powers that shape the climate of America. Important cases in America’s history such as Roe v. Wade (which legalized abortion) or the Thirteenth Amendment (which ended slavery) have had an enormous impact on American residents. Only the federal government can coin money, influence all local and state governments, and regulate commerce as well as international affairs. This election season has shown the influence that federal government has on an international and national level. So no one is arguing that the national government isn’t important, because it is. However, the federal government probably isn’t too concerned with how much traffic you have to deal with on your daily commute, or how crowded your grocery store is, but both of these are problems that your city’s government cares deeply about.
For a predominantly upper-middle class city like Irvine, it’s unlikely that whoever wins this election will have a significant impact on the lives of Irvine’s residents. According to the City of Irvine’s website, the median household income rests at a comfortable $92,000 a year, well above the national average of about $51,000 and well below the $435,000 it would take to be considered as part of America’s top 1%. While that isn’t to say that everyone in Irvine lives comfortably by any means, as 12.2% of the population in Irvine still lives below the poverty line, it does give some perspective on how Irvine residents would be affected by national policies. Programs like Obamacare that are aimed at helping impoverished citizens and increasing taxes on the top 1% probably don’t affect many people in Irvine at all.
The powers of local governments often include responsibility over parks and recreation, transportation, police and fire departments, public works, medical services and municipal courts, according to the White House official website. These responsibilities, while smaller than the federal government’s powers to start a war or create Affirmative Action programs, are likely to affect the everyday lives of citizens in the way a national government simply wouldn’t be able to. The city councilmembers, mayor, and school board members that Irvine residents elect could effect change in the public transportation Irvine offers, the traffic Irvine residents have to deal with on their way to school and the number of local shopping centers that exist in this city.
While we all scrutinize and debate who should hold power in the national government, we also need to remember to think about who we want our city to be controlled by for the next two to four years. Every vote counts, and voting arbitrarily (or not voting at all) could have more of an impact than you might think.