COLUMN: We should focus more time on our local politicians

Another election season has come and gone, leaving behind a mess of soggy candidate yard signs and “I Voted!” stickers ruined by the Election Day rain.

This year, Indiana experienced a spike in voter turnout fueled by the contentious Senate race between incumbent Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, and now Republican Senator-elect Mike Braun. The $104 million spent on the Indiana Senate race was used to portray Indiana’s Senate seat as an exceptionally critical position for both political parties, which helped increase voter turnout across the state.

Although it’s nice to see so many people engaged in their government during election season, it’s likely many voters only showed up to the polls to vote for the candidates running for federal offices. While electing our federal representatives is important, of course, Hoosiers need to remember that they’ve elected more than just federal legislators and that the end of election season doesn’t signify an end to their civic engagement.

Though this year’s federal Senate race was vicious and heavily polarized, its results won’t have nearly as much of an effect on you and your community as state and local elections do.

Annually, state legislatures enact far more laws than the federal governments does. State legislatures introduce 23 times the number of bills than the United States Congress does, totaling an average 128,145 bills per year. Indiana alone passed 215 bills between January and May of this year, with 210 passed during the regular legislative session and an additional five passed during a special session called by Governor Eric Holcomb.

Not only do state legislatures pass more legislation annually than the federal government does, but they also affect the lives of their constituencies in a much more direct way. 

In Indiana, our state legislature has passed several bills in recent years that many Hoosiers have directly benefited from. The content of these bills include legalizing Sunday sales of alcohol, authorizing the use and sale of cannabidiol, or CBD oil, and establishing an assistance fund for the victims of sexual assault.

Along with the work of our state legislature, local governments have a significant influence on many Hoosiers's day-to-day lives, too. From road construction to law enforcement to K-12 education — your local officials all have a say in what happens in your city.

Yet while Indiana’s state legislators and public officials continue to work diligently for their constituents, too few of their electors even know their names.

This November, half the members in the state Senate and all of the 100 members in the State House of Representative were up for re-election. Hundreds more ran for city and county offices throughout the state. Across Indiana, leaders within our communities actively campaigned for public office and sought your vote. Some were able to earn it, while others fell short.

While it’s easy to be pessimistic about government because of the polarized gridlock at the federal level, state and local governments are more accessible, more collaborative and often more capable of serving their constituents. Many of the issues Hoosiers care deeply about can be better addressed by their state and local governments than by the federal government, which is exactly why voters need to remain engaged all year round.

Now, as we begin to take down our favorite candidates’s yard signs and peel campaign stickers off our car bumpers, our newly elected state legislators and local officials are preparing to take office and begin their terms. Although election season may be over, for now, this shouldn’t be the end of public engagement in government — it should be just the beginning.

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