This may not sound like a locally-based column. But stick with it… it is.
All politics is local. It’s a phrase attributed to former speaker Tip O’Neill. Heck, he wrote a book with it as the title. This year, the phrase has been embraced by Republicans running for reelection in the House. But it’s always been followed by the incumbent class.
But, I wonder… at what cost do we all follow this belief? How harmful is following this idea?
For example, last week Rep. Tom Reynolds spoke with NPR on Tuesday about the GOP’s chances for winning post-Tom DeLay.
Reynolds talked confidently (he always does) about his party’s ability to keep control of the House (Check it out here). As you might know, Reynolds heads up the House Republican Campaign Committee. And what did he tell the NPR interviewer? He gave him the growing theme for a GOP that wants to shed the DeLay scandal (not to mention President Bush’s tumbling popularity) – that all Congressional elections are local.
These elections, Reynolds said, aren’t based on national issues, national news stories… such as those about a congressman who is stepping down because of his ties to a disgraced lobbyist. No, no. All politics is local. Reynolds spoke about the leading issue in his own district – jobs. He didn’t talk about his challenger, Democrat Jack Davis, who is slamming Reynolds and the Republicans in Congress for promoting trade initiatives that he says harm local workers.
His premise boils down to this – you vote the guy, the gal… not the party. You vote for the person who roams the district with his or her hand outstretched asking for your vote, eating the chicken at the local fair.
"It’s all about what each district has going for itself," Reynolds said. "Some, like mine, are talking about jobs… others may be talking about border security. Whatever it is… we believes its between both the incumbents and the candidates and their districts making it all politics is local."
So what’s the problem with this? Plenty, if that’s really the way we all approach elections to legislative bodies.
Reynolds may come from Western New York. And he may even be a likable fellow who relates well to Western New Yorkers in his 26th Congressional District.
But that approach disregards something. Reynolds runs as a Republican. As a member of the House, he is part of the Republican caucus. And – for better or for worse – he plays along with the team he chose. This is how a party in power – well…. uses its power.
So are you really just voting for Reynolds because he’s a great guy, who understands the concerns of his district? Doesn’t the team he plays for have any place in the vote you cast.
Are you really just voting for, say, Assembly Member Susan John, because she’s got the pulse of her Monroe County district? Is this all that’s behind your vote? Take a look at this article . John defends and supports labor in the argument for workers compensation reform. Nothing wrong with that on the surface. She clearly values the labor movement. She ought to, as head of the Labor Committee in the Assembly. It’s a position she attained because of the power structure in the Assembly, who appointed her to the post.
But, how does that make John local?
And we all know how legislative members like to go back to the district during election years and tell the voters – "don’t forget, I know how to bring back important things for you." You know… goodies like money for local projects. They call them member items in the state capitol. A less flattering name is pork (just ask the Center for Governmental Research).
It sounds great on the local level…. just check out all the projects on this vast list that went to the Rochester area (thanks to the Empire Center for New York State Policy). What better way to show that a representative is really look out for his/her constituents than by showing the voters in his/her area the pork brought home. Why Sen. Jim Alesi has a music series at Eastman named after him. Why would he put his name there? All politics is local, right?
I’m not arguing that this premise is false. It’s a time-tested way to win reelection for incumbents.
I’m just saying that to forget that Reynolds is a member of the ruling Republican Party in the House… or that John is part of the Democrats in control of the Assembly… or that Alesi sits with the GOP majority in the State Senate… is to forget something vitally important. They help sustain that ruling majority. They are a part of it. And so… shouldn’t the decisions made by that ruling party reflect on the team members in their district come Election Day?
Maybe we could change that Tip O’Neill saying… turn it into this: All votes are local. And all voters have a choice about how they base their decision.