Mr. Collins, my high school government teacher, taught us about the importance of local issues. "You can go days without dealing with the federal government," he would say, "but every time you step out of your house, you interact with your state and local governments."
Because I grew up with an interest in civics, that idea always stuck with me. It's particularly curious to me because it represents a mirror image of how voters behave. Federal elections, especially presidential elections, get way more attention than any of the local stuff. It seems, most voters never learned Mr. Collins’ lesson.
In the first episode of my new podcast (Wonk and Circumstance, presented by VoterAid), which debuts today, I asked my two guests a question about interest in federal government trickling down to the state. My intent was to see whether they feared angry town halls or protests outside of legislative offices in the wake of our current political climate. But they took the question in a completely different direction; they openly wished that the federal obsession would trickle down. They both wanted people to care that much about what was happening at the state level.
This is sad to me. But it makes all of the sense in the world.
When Americans are in school, they get some education in how the government works. Here, it seems to me that there is a history, but that it doesn't get talked about. Instead, we learn about heroes like Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison that built the system we have today. The federal system, that is. At some point, three of those four greats would be president of the country, [SPOILER] with the fourth being killed before he could run. When you learn about great men becoming president, it's hard not to keep track of the office and see what it's been up to.
Meanwhile, most of the things people truly care about aren't handled by the federal government. Education is primarily a state function. Gun laws are mostly local and state functions. Criminal offenses are part of state statutes. Even things that would fall under the umbrella of “entitlements” are administered at the state level.
People get upset at government broadly, but they don't know which level to actually be angry at.
Over the next couple of months, my weekly podcast will look at issues important to your life. We'll examine those issues in relation to the levels of government at which they actually matter most, rather than just throwing them at D.C. and seeing what happens. I'll be checking in here when episodes drop, talking about how the issue we're tackling that week affect you where you live.
We only hope for one thing: to get you to care about the 20 to 25 people other than the president who represent you across the levels of government.
Juanky Robaina is the co-founder of VoterAid, a Miami-based startup focused on improving civic engagement by helping voters find their ideological matches from among the candidates on Election Day. VoterAid was chosen to be part of Florida International University’s first incubator cohort, graduating in December of 2016 after successfully helping people across the state of Florida vote in the November elections.
Juanky was born and raised in the county of Dade to Cuban exile parents. He lives with his wife and spends too much time watching West Wing and Psych reruns.