Local Politics Is the Best Option if You Want to Effect Change

Starting at the city or state level can lead to change if you keep talking to area representatives and being involved

Local Politics Is the Best Option if You Want to Effect Change

Anja Smith

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If you are obsessing over the 2020 presidential election, stop it. It’s a waste of energy. Yes, the drama is high. The stakes are high too. But your energy is better spent on local politics.

Inform yourself on national issues, by all means. Vote your interests, for sure. But the amount of attention national politics receives is out of proportion to how it affects our everyday lives.

Understand you can’t affect national politics. Few of us have time, power or money to carry influence in Washington.

Closer to home, your vote, voice and involvement can dramatically affect your community’s quality of life. Local and regional issues include trash pickup, traffic, fire rescue, business licensing, permitting, building codes and much more.

State, county and city politics provide an opportunity to get involved and share your voice. Not every issue will go your way, but you can almost always find a seat at the table. Few can say that about national politics.

I doubt you could influence trade tariff discussions, but you can change your city council’s mind.


Recently, I testified in front of my state representatives about business license tax reform. The current system is fine for some businesses but hostile to others. It’s an issue that directly impacts our plumbing business, costing us time and money every year. 

My opportunity to testify was sudden, but it wasn’t out of the blue. I had unknowingly been laying the groundwork for years, starting with my involvement at the chamber of commerce.  

My activities at the chamber led to an invitation to sit on its board. That led to an invitation to join the state chamber of commerce small-business council. As an active member of that council, I got the chance to share my story. 

My testimony educated politicians who were not aware of the adverse effects of the system. Politicians aren’t always subject-matter experts, they rely on data, stories and testimony from their constituents to decide. 

Business license reform may or may not pass — it’s still an active bill. Either way, I’m proud of my work.


If you want to move beyond yelling back at the talking heads on TV and want to make an impact — here are some ideas for getting involved:

1. Monitor the issues. Know what your politicians are voting on so you can speak up. Rely on associations, chambers of commerce and advocacy groups to provide updates and navigate the confusing legal jargon of government. Sign up for newsletters and alerts based on your location and interests.

Next-Level Effort: Attend public meetings for your local government. This is a big time commitment and not workable for many, but your city or county council likely post transcripts, minutes or recordings of meetings online after the fact.

2. Join a committee. Any group that has a legislative agenda, like your chamber of commerce or industry association, has a legislative committee. Ask how you can get involved with that group and help decide which issues get resources and attention. 

Next-Level Effort: Nominate yourself to sit on a city, county, or state board or commission. Examples might include a city planning commission, a health advisory board or a small-business regulatory review committee. Options will vary by location.

3. Get face-to-face. For specific issues of concern or interest, get together with your mayor, a council member or your local representative. It’s easier to access these individuals than you might think. Some will sit down with you; others will take a phone call. You can always start with a written letter or email. 

Next-Level Effort: Run for office! Most local politicians keep their day job, so no excuses here. Running for an office is the ultimate opportunity for influence.

After testifying at the state level, I sat down with my mayor and a member of our city council. Business license taxes fund municipalities in our state, so I wanted to understand their concerns. We found an unbelievable amount of common ground that day, despite initially being on opposite sides of the issue.

Maybe that’s the beauty of local politics. There is less theory. The issues are smaller scale and get resolved faster. It’s easy to understand that everyone’s intentions are the same — we want to live and work in a beautiful place.

Finding compromise feels possible in a way that national politics can’t provide.

My evolution on local politics is ongoing. I didn’t dive into the deep end so much as slowly wade into the waters. I suggest you do the same. Take one step that feels comfortable and see where it leads.


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