After the County Commissioner Candidate forum on Thursday, I’ve been thinking about the role of county government and elected officials. (This isn’t a new thing for me, as my older brother is a county commissioner back in Indiana. Every state is different, though.) Fortunately, the Minnesota Association of Counties has lots of good publications that can answer questions.

Why do I care so much about city council, school board, county commission and state legislature races? Here are a few reasons.

(1) These are the races where you can make the most contact with candidates and officials. It’s representative democracy in a nutshell. Each Stevens County commissioner represents about 2000 people. It is quite easy to meet your city councilmember or county commissioner and express your concerns.

(2) While what happens in Washington, DC clearly has a tremendous impact on what we do in our day-to-day lives, local and state government have equal if not greater impacts. It is important to know your local elected officials and where they stand on the local issues.

(3) In rural areas, counties have to provide many services that are taken for granted in urban areas. It is fascinating to watch the interplay between county and township vis-a-vis snow plowing, road management and economic development. And of course, access to mental health services, Meals on Wheels and other senior services, and local libraries/schools would usually devolve onto small towns and county government.

(4) Local elective office is the farm team for state and federal office. Many members of Congress got their start as local elected officials. Barack Obama was a state senator in Illinois before beginning his meteoric rise. Even as Congress becomes less responsive to local needs (a topic for another time, though I will say that a country of 300,000,000 deserves more than 435 representatives in what is allegedly the People’s House), we still like to see our Federal representatives with some legislative body experience.


Continuing the local government theme from last night…

Tonight I attended a forum for local candidates (Morris Area School Board and Stevens County Commission) at the local American Legion hall. You know where I stand on the school board (Mike Odello deserves your vote), but I will say I was also impressed by current school board member Brent Fuhrman. He was the only one of the incumbents speaking sincerely about a balanced, well-rounded education. I appreciate that.

I do wish that the questions asked were actual questions about philosophy of educational governance instead of “How will do you this thing which is required by the state and can only really be done one way?” When you’re given a chance to ask questions of elected officials, don’t waste it with your own axe to grind.

The County Commission races were pretty clearly defined as well. One district is lucky to have two really solid candidates. Would that all districts would have such a great race.