Municipal elections matter

Published 7:10 pm Thursday, September 28, 2017

Municipal elections in Beaufort County are a little more than a month away. If voters have not already started to do so, they should make themselves familiar with the candidates and their platforms.

Voters in Aurora, Bath, Belhaven, Chocowinity, Pantego, Washington and Washington Park will mark ballots for mayors, City Council members, town commissioners and aldermen. Several municipalities have no contested races. In Belhaven, five people seek to become that town’s mayor. In Washington, 11 candidates are vying for the five seats on the City Council.

Are municipal elections all that important? Yes. In general, government at the local level more directly affects people than at the state or federal levels. City councils set tax rates. A town’s board of commissioners determines zoning regulations. Aldermen decide whether to spend tax dollars on street improvements or buy a new garbage truck.

Thomas Phillip “Tip” O’Neill Jr., former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, is closely associated with this phrase: all politics is local. Municipal elections are about as local as it gets. What does the phrase all politics is local mean? Simply put, it means that politicians should appeal to the everyday, mundane and simple concerns of voters who put them in office. It’s their personal worries, concerns and trepidations, not the large and intangible ideas, that voters care about and want addressed.

For the most part, voters care more about what the county commissioners or a city council might do when it comes to property taxes than they do about what the U.S. Congress might do on the issue of tax credits for renovating and preserving historic properties. Local governments appoint people to health boards, planning boards and historic-preservation commissions, whose decisions affect the community. That’s why voters should know candidates’ views regarding community issues. The better informed a voter becomes, the better the election process. The better the election process, the better the chance to elect candidates who represent the will of the people.