By Butch Porter
We spent about an hour the other day at Leesburg’s Halloween parade, with my 5-month-old daughter in a cute pumpkin outfit, and my 10-year-old son in his grim reaper getup. (The latter is on year two of no longer wanting to be a hero, and preferring to be legitimately scary.)
Where we were standing on King Street, there were two teenage girls behind me. The political floats were mostly towards the end, and the first one I noticed was the Loudoun Democrats/Clinton float. I heard the two young ladies behind me say, “Yay, Clinton.” (Not really out loud, “Yay!! Clinton!!!! WOOHOO!!” Rather they said it almost to each other, sort of each reassuring the other that’s who they were supporting).
Hard upon hearing that, Phyllis Randall, the chairman of the Board of Supervisors, walked up to hand out candy to the kids in front of me, and we exchanged pleasantries. She said, “Happy Halloween,” and kept moving.
I glanced back at the two young ladies behind me, and they were both looking down at their phones. Though I resisted saying anything (my wife was eternally thankful), what I wanted to say was:
“Why are you cheering Hillary Clinton, while the first African American woman chairman in Loudoun County history, who as far as I know, isn’t under investigation by the FBI, doesn’t get as much as a wave and a thank you?”
The reason I thought better of asking them this, of course, is that it is not their fault. And when I say not their fault, I don’t mean it isn’t their responsibility to know about and engage in their communities. It is indeed, even as teenagers. But my hunch is their parents may not have recognized the county chairman either if they had been standing there. Many people at the parade probably didn’t.
The same Phyllis Randall who made it her mission to focus on ethics as an almost singular purpose of her first several months as chairman could possibly teach a thing or two to our federal candidates (Note: as of this writing we do not know who won on Nov. 8), but more importantly we could all learn a thing or two about making sure that we, as citizens, are not missing what is happening with us and to us at the state and local level.
After all, most of the law enforcement, public safety, and criminal justice decisions, and virtually all transportation, land use, commercial zoning and planning decisions, in conjunction with utilities and other infrastructure … in other words, to the extent that government is involved, the lion’s share of the actual things that allow the citizens of Loudoun County to get around, to work, communicate, etc., is mostly made by county and town governments. In a way, the state has a larger role, but the federal role is—or rather it should be—much smaller, on almost every issue other than foreign policy.
This is not an anti-American sentiment. Our Constitution was designed this way. James Madison said it best in Federalist 39, when he spoke of a Federal vs. National (“Consolidated”) Constitution:
“… [T]he local or municipal authorities form distinct and independent portions of the supremacy, no more subject within their respective spheres to the general authority, than the general authority is subject to them, within its own sphere. In this relation then the proposed Government cannot be deemed a national one; since its jurisdiction extends to certain enumerated objects only, and leaves to the several States a residuary and inviolable sovereignty over all other objects.”
Since we are one of only four states with odd-year elections, it shouldn’t be surprising that the turnout is a little lower than the presidential years, but in the case of 2011 and 2015—the last two state Senate elections as well as that of Loudoun County’s boards and constitutional officers—the turnout percentage in Virginia was below 30 percent … the lowest it’s been since we began actively tracking it in 1976.
As Americans in a federal system, all of us have the responsibility—and our kids will share that responsibility sooner than we think—to engage in our local and state government at least to the same degree, and arguably to a much higher degree, than we do our federal government.
So make sure your kids know that every year is an election year in Virginia, and most of the real work of governing is done at the local and state level, and thus (a few notable Town Councils notwithstanding), most of the real decision-making on who gets to govern us here in Loudoun County will be made next November (and two years hence). For it is on the odd-numbered years when we decide who to send of our friends and neighbors to Richmond, to 1 Harrison St., and to Education Court in Ashburn, to assert whatever level of “inviolable sovereignty” or autonomy we the people deem fit.
And if you’re completely torn on what to say to your kid about who, why, and what just happened Tuesday, just say, “Next November is more important, do you know who your state and local representatives are?”
[Butch Porter is a Leesburg business owner and local commentator.]