Who Do You Trust in Government?

I am in Phoenix this week to attend the National League of Cities Annual Congress of Cities conference. During the next three days I will attend a number of sessions aimed at shedding light on economic development, green issues, infrastructure, and youth and family programs. I will also network with municipal leaders from around the country. In fact, right now I am writing this entry sitting in a finance meeting among officials from Salt Lake City, Boston, Tallahassee, and Dallas. Good stuff.

Much of the small talk this week is centering on the election results of last Tuesday. In Michigan and around the country I think that it is accurate to describe the results as generally positive for the “left of center” crowd. Victories on controversial issues in Maine, Mississippi, and Ohio went to the progressives and organized labor. In Arizona, a sitting state senator and the champion of their controversial immigration law went down in flames. And in Michigan, State Rep. Paul Scott was narrowly recalled largely on his record of voting in opposition to organized labor and the teachers union.

These victories, or course, come on the heels of unprecedented gains in 2010 by Tea Party backed candidates where Congress, governorships, state legislatures, and several ballot issues bounded way to the right. And we all recall that 2008 was a big year for Democrats. Left, right, left… just like in the Army.

So what does it all mean? Are we left leaning as a people? Are we right? Well, I’m not sure. But I believe that the general public is clearly voicing its continued disgust with the system rather than revealing some sort of cosmic shift in political leanings.  Much can be written on this subject but, hey, this blog is a vehicle for making great places not for talking partisan politics. Let’s move on.

So let’s turn to non-partisan matters, which are often overlooked and under analyzed in the media (not sexy enough?). When you think non-partisan, you should think local government. For example, in Michigan there are only a couple of communities that utilize partisan ballots to elect their leadership. As a result most issues get decided on the merits, rather than along partisan lines. Sure there are cliques, voting blocks, and conflicts. But in the long run, the system at the local level runs much differently than the state and federal levels. And the public supports the local system to a much higher degree. How much so? Well, even during last year’s anti-tax wave local ballot questions that raised taxes for things like police, fire, roads, and municipal services passed in Michigan cities and villages at a clip above 75%. This trend continued in the spring of 2011 and last Tuesday. It is clear from these votes and from detailed polling that citizens have more faith in local government than they do in the other levels. Citizens are much more confident in a level of government that is closest to them and not as easily subjected to strict partisan ideologies.

Still, there is a lot of talk in partisan political circles of consolidating communities, which seems to fly in the face of what service delivery methods most citizens clearly desire. Is this because of a need for economies of scale or is it another obvious disconnect between ideologies and citizens? Is it both? For those who profess to wipe out incorporated areas because there are “too many” or because they are “too small” to make a difference, I say check with the people who rely on them first. Regionalism is a great tool and it has a very important place in the discussion especially as we tackle long term infrastructure challenges. But if you’re concerned about making great PLACES, and we should be, much of the planning and implementation is better done locally– block-by-block, neighborhood-by-neighborhood.

Citizens seem to agree.

  • Thx. On the whole I think so, too.

  • Lori A

    Great insight. Local governments more responsive.