Today is Election Day. They’re municipal elections and turnout will be low. However, they are important for two reasons in particular.
First, municipal elections, in many ways, have more direct impact on our lives than either state or federal races. Municipal government is usually closer to the people it serves and also more accessible. It has the greatest day-to-day impact on our lives. It determines when and how our waste is handled, which roads are widened, where sidewalks are located, how much we pay in property tax, where businesses can and can’t locate, building restrictions and numerous other functions that affect our decisions about where to live.
The other reason they are important is that they often are the starting point for political careers. This year, in particular, we have people entering the political arena energized, at least partly by the Moral Monday movement and the desire to ensure that our municipalities don’t go the way of the legislature.
There are four candidates from different parts of the state that I’ve been watching and who I believe we will see move up the ladder in state politics. In Hillsborough, Jenn Weaver is running for Town Council. Jenn is a whip smart first-time candidate who is a veteran of Moral Mondays. She grew up in a politically active family and married into another. I’ve known Jenn for years. She not only is committed to making, or keeping, Hillsborough a great place to live, she understands the political landscape and the forces that have shaped North Carolina.
In Charlotte, David Howard is running for re-election to the Charlotte City Council at-large. David is a policy wonk who came out of the rough side of Charlotte and has watched his hometown grow up. Walking down the street with David is difficult if you want to get somewhere in a hurry. Everyone knows him and wants to chat with him. He’s not just likable. He also knows the rules and regulations that govern Charlotte as well as anyone on the Council. He’s determined to make a difference and I believe we’ll see him on a larger stage in the future. (Full disclosure: I worked with David briefly during his campaign.)
In the mountains, Zeb Smathers has thrown his hat into the ring in a bid for Canton Town Alderman. Smathers is the son of former Mayor Pat Smathers and returned home after law school. A first time candidate, Smathers knows western North Carolina and has built a network of friends and colleagues across the state.
Finally, Andy Ball is running for Mayor of Boone. Ball was elected to the town council as a student at Appalachian State and is currently in his second term. Ball has been active in politics across North Carolina and has built a strong network of young supporters. He understands government and has been active in numerous organizations like the League of Municipalities.
I don’t know if any of these folks will win but they should give progressive across North Carolina hope. They are just four of many young people who are becoming increasingly engaged in the political process. They all have a sense of idealism that is tempered with practicality. And they have all built networks that extend beyond their home towns. Win or lose we will see more of these budding leaders and our cities, towns and state will be better for it.