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Ignoring local politics for national is a mistake

Rep. John Kavanagh made headlines last week by unveiling a bill that would police public restrooms throughout Arizona.

His bill aimed to make it a misdemeanor to go into the wrong bathroom or, as he described it, the sex not listed on your birth certificate.

I rolled my eyes when I heard this, just like I did when I read there was another lawmaker pushing to make gold and silver legal tender in the state. I didn’t realize Arizona had become filled with preppers living in underground bunkers who had lost faith in the American dollar.

I didn’t know these were problems worth legislating but the eye-rolling happens every year because lawmakers attempt to pass bills so far outside the mainstream attempting to solve nonexistent problems.

The New York Times’ Bill Keller offers up a theory on why this happens. In short, he writes, local issues get left behind because voters’ attention is spent on national issues.

“People who participate in state and local government tend not to be representative of the masses at all,” (Samuel) Abrams (who teaches politics at Sarah Lawrence and Stanford) told me. “They tend to be highly engaged political elites — 15 percent of the population who think they’re fighting this culture war. They’ll see an opening. They’ll see a judge, they’ll see a legislature that looks amenable to something, and they’ll try to push it through and build a groundswell around that.”

Take a look at this. The City of Phoenix elected a new mayor in Greg Stanton in 2011. He won the post by receiving 95,000 votes. There were 170,000 ballots cast in a city with almost 1.5 million people living within its limits. Only about 11 percent of the population decided who was going to run the city.

It doesn’t just happen here. In Los Angeles, only 18 percent of voters bothered to show up to vote in their mayoral election earlier this year.

Compare those numbers to the 2012 presidential race when over 129 million people voted. Turnout was 57.5 percent. Americans will show up to the polls to vote for president every four years. Everything else is just a bonus.

Therein lies the irony. In the presidential race, one vote was just one in 129 million. Even in Arizona, a presidential vote was one in 2.3 million but a vote for the mayor of Phoenix was one in 170,000. One vote is much more impactful the closer to home you get.

It’s just that the issues aren’t as exciting. And then lawmakers like Kavanagh attempt to regulate bathroom usage and others to bring back gold and silver coins. Perhaps it would cease if we paid a little closer attention.

Turns out, all politics isn’t local after all because local politics sometimes is just a little too meaningless.