IoWhat is Going on in Politics? Why local politics matter

A common mantra post-Trump is that Democrats need to focus their efforts on building a bench. Our two major candidates in the 2016 election, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, both served many decades in the public eye and in elected service. Further down the ballot, however, were state and local candidates who received paltry media coverage and representation. In some ways, our perception of the rising stars in politics is built by the media we consume, who our friends are and where we might live. Being isolated from local politics is symptomatic of a failure to recognize its importance. 

Before the race for Democratic National Convention Chair, Pete Buttigieg was as obscure as his name is hard to pronounce. The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Buttigieg had a small following in some parts of the LGBTQ+ community as the first openly gay mayor of his city. After being reelected as mayor by a wide margin, he saw the DNC Chair race as an opportunity to share his experience uniting his town around unapologetically progressive policies. Granted, this didn’t pan out — on the day of the vote, he pulled his candidacy and left the race between Representative Ellison and Secretary Perez. But now, a whole host of activists, donors and party leaders know him by name even if they can’t pronounce it. 

When people discuss the Democratic bench, they often think in terms of the future statewide and federal offices that candidates could fill. This is certainly not the worst frame of reference to have. We need good experienced candidates to run in all of these positions. The best part about getting progressives elected to those offices is that they can do good work right now and not wait to hold state or federal office.  

County governments in Iowa have led progressive change, while our state government has been controlled by Republicans for the past few years. It was three Democratically controlled counties (Polk, Linn, and Johnson) that raised their minimum wages. Johnson County has started issuing county IDs for those that need documentation, given that traditional routes may not meet the specific needs of undocumented people. Here in Poweshiek County, through the work of Supervisor Diana Dawley, our board has been able to supplement mental health by expanding the county services at Grinnell Regional Medical Center.  

The way that Johnson County raised its minimum wage underscores the vital importance of municipal and local elections. Each municipality in Johnson County had to individually approve the minimum wage increases. For some of the city governments this was a no brainer. Iowa City passed the increase easily. In the case of the City of Solon, the wage raise failed. City councils that mainly focus on mundane policies like trash collection really can have an important say in many issues but many times choose not to. Solon chose to stick to the statewide minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. In the end, the progress on minimum wage made by these local governments was made null by the state government through pre-emption. 

All of this progress points to something that I have been telling as many people I can: vote in local elections, find local candidates you like and fight for what you want to see. There are already some very exciting candidates here in Iowa. After being held by one of the most prolific Republican fundraisers in the state of Iowa, Des Moines City Council Ward 3 is now a race between an environmental lawyer, Joshua Mandel, and President of the Iowa chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, Abshir Omar. This is just one example of the progress that can happen on the local level right now. And as a reminder, this election, and all other municipal elections in Iowa, is Nov. 7, 2017. Grinnell will have an open mayor’s seat, an at-large city council race and first and third wards up for election this November. These are non-partisan races, so it’s up to us as voters to make sure we’re up to speed. I know I’ll be keeping an eye on The S&B and the local community to make sure I’m as educated as possible — I hope you’ll join me. 

– Austin Wadle ’18