Many of us rant about what goes on in the halls of Congress but know very little about what goes on in our town halls. This is ironic considering we have a greater chance of influencing a local issue than some grand scheme being concocted in Washington DC. More importantly, local politics is too often overlooked in regards to its interplay with state and national politics.
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Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once quipped,
This axiom should be a textbook lesson for all of us. At its core, the principle implies successful politicians appeal to the simple everyday concerns of their constituents, because these personal issues, rather than big and intangible ideas, are often what voters care about most.
The Left does a better job at applying O’Neill’s axiom than the Right. We see this everyday through increasing, albeit Balkanized, popular support for expanding domestic programs. But this also applies abroad. I first noticed this during the Cold War — a conflict of ideologies that often played out in third world countries. The US/Right would go in and tell a mother holding her starving baby that capitalism would provide her child prosperity in the future. The USSR/Left would go in and tell her that socialism would provide milk for her child now.
O’Neill’s axiom would have found a niche in Confucianism, which emphasizes a trickle up theory to achieving global goals:
“If there is righteousness in the heart, there will be beauty in the character. If there is beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home. If there be harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation. If there be order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.”
The key words in the quote above are “If there is righteousness in the heart.” This is a big “if,” so big that Confucius’ conclusion has yet to see reality. The Left, experts in bumper sticker politics, summarizes Confucius with the pithy “Think Globally, Act Locally.”
A Confucius-like trickle up theory also applies to politicians since many who serve on local boards run for local offices — and many who serve in local offices run for state offices —and many who serve in state offices eventually run for national offices. So it should be in local politics where those that do not have righteousness in their hearts are weeded out. Instead, in vindication of the Political Peter Principle, they are voted to ever higher offices of corruption as well as incompetence.
That brings me to my home town of Beavercreek, Ohio, although Anytown USA could also serve as an example. Every five years, Beavercreek holds a city charter review commission. I served on the 2008/2009 board. My board had three limited-government proponents that were able to steer the committee to recommend few if any major charter changes. This outcome didn’t please the local political class who wanted “more options in revenue enhancements and greater management flexibility.” This is Latin for more taxes and power.
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I have a great interest in seeing that Beavercreek’s charter continues to limit the power and scope of the city government, so I have been attending the current commission’s meetings. Most of the issues the previous commission put aside are receiving warmer reception by the current commission. The general consensus of this commission is to “unbind council’s hands.”
Among many changes sought by the local political establishment are an income tax, direct vote of the mayor, and elimination of term limits. I fought against, and voters defeated, an income tax initiative in 2013, so that issue is DOA… for now. The direct vote of mayor is receiving sympathetic acceptance by the commission. I argued at one of the meetings that the direct vote of mayor is just the first step toward politicizing city operations and will eventually lead to limits on the size of soft drinks; commission members responded with half-hearted smirks.
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Then there is the issue of term limits. Initially, Beavercreek didn’t have term limits, but in the 1990s, voters approved a citizens-sponsored term limit ballot initiative. Overturning that law has been the goal of the local political class since it was passed. One current charter member, a former councilman, opined that he personally opposes term limits because as a free person he should have the right to vote for whomever he pleases. In a perfect world he is correct, but as James Madison wrote, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”
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Here we can learn a valuable lesson from Ulysses. In Greek Mythology, when ships approached the Island of the Sirens, their magical voices caused the crews to crash their ships into rocks and drown. Ulysses ordered his men to tie him to the mast and ignore his orders and actions. He also ordered his men to put wax in their ears and to row as fast and as hard as they could until they passed the island.
Term limits are restraints against the hypnotic songs of political Sirens; melodies learned locally and honed to perfection as politicians move on to state and national stages. I believe in term limits so much that if I could travel in time to 1787, I would add the following line to the US Constitution:
“Long government careers, being inʃtruments leading to the destruction of liberties, no person in Congreʃs shall serve for more than two terms in their respective offices.”
Beavercreek city council recently eliminated the annual July 4th fireworks due to their $25K cost. Yet for nearly 17 years, taxpayers have subsidized a public golf course at over $1M annually. Politicians of the stripe who approve local golf courses end up approving national health care.
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Citizens understanding the proper functions of government is key to the preservation of freedom and is the ultimate check and balance. Therefore, although it’s bad enough when politicians don’t understand or follow these principles, citizens saying they wish to unbind the hands of government, at any level, is what real nightmares are made of.
Tony Corvo is a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel with a Ph.D. in physics. He is active in local Beavercreek, Ohio politics and is the author of All Politics is Loco: Musings from the Conservative Next Door. He and his wife have two grown daughters. He writes extensively on local issues. Many of his recent articles can be found at taxbusters.wordpress.com/author/phdmc2.
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All opinions expressed belong solely to their authors and may not be construed as the opinions of other writers or of OCR staff.