Over the past several months, many faithful Catholics have expressed deep dissatisfaction with this year’s presidential election, and understandably so: neither major party candidate seems personally guided by a consistent ethic of life, and there are deep, concerning questions about the character of both.
In fact, many Minnesotans are so frustrated and disgusted with the presidential race that they have declared they will not be voting at all.
But staying home on Election Day will not change the lack of qualified national candidates, nor will it do anything to address the serious threats to life and dignity that are being advanced in our state and nation. On the contrary, it will make these problems worse. Moreover, refusing to vote out of frustration with national politics prevents us from making a difference where it matters most: in our own backyard.
All politics is local
With the media’s non-stop fixation on national politics, it might be easy to forget the wise words of Catholic congressman and former Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill: “All politics is local.”
While what happens in national politics does matter, O’Neill’s maxim is an important reminder to make sure we’re paying at least as much attention to St. Paul (and our local communities) as we are to Washington, D.C. Most decisions that affect citizens everyday—from property tax rates to community development projects to school curricula—are determined by local officials who are chosen in local elections.
The perceived importance of state and local government may be diminished, as the concentration of power has increased at the federal level. But if we are truly to embrace subsidiarity—the Catholic principle that emphasizes that social roles and responsibilities should be carried out by those most naturally suited to fulfill them—then we must take seriously our duty to be good stewards of our corner of the vineyard. One important way we practice subsidiarity is by voting in local elections.
Additionally, voting locally today is an important way of vetting the national candidates of tomorrow. After all, many well-known politicians get their start at the local level. For example, Vice President Hubert Humphrey didn’t begin his career in the White House—he first made his mark as the mayor of Minneapolis, before going on to the U.S. Senate and the vice presidency.
Your vote matters
Our ability to impact national politics is limited. Minnesotans know this well: during caucusing this past March, we collectively picked two major party nominees for president who won’t even be on the ballot in November.
But our vote has a much greater impact locally. Consider this: in the 2014 elections, Republicans picked up 11 seats in the Minnesota House, giving them control with a ten-seat majority. But if the six closest House elections, which were all won by the Republican candidate by an average of only 433 votes, had gone the other way, the DFL would have retained control of the House.
2016 is shaping up to be another close election cycle, and the contours of our state legislature could be shaped by a handful of votes. One of them could be yours.
Much at stake
Voting locally is especially crucial this year. The entire state legislature (67 senate seats and 134 house seats) is up for election in November. Control of both the Minnesota House and Senate is in the balance, with issues like the legalization of assisted suicide, the legitimization of commercial surrogacy, funding levels for social safety net programs, protection of water and other natural resources, and parental choice in education set to be decided in St. Paul.
Disgust with presidential politics, while understandable, should not prevent us from casting our vote in “down ballot” races. If we stay on the sidelines and fail to exercise our duties of faithful citizenship, we won’t be making a symbolic statement about our government—we’ll be allowing others to shape society in ways contrary to God’s providential care for all of creation.
Shawn Peterson is the associate director for public policy at the Minnesota Catholic Conference.