The locals matter too
In the recent local body elections, a friend of mine ran for—and won—a seat on our local community board. This marked a profound change in my life, because for the first time I actually got excited about local body elections. Sure, I had always dutifully voted, flicking through the candidate statements and making my semi-educated choices based on booklet blurbs and billboards.
But it never felt like it really mattered. In fact, I remember that upon finding out that my first opportunity to vote after turning 18 would be in local body elections I quipped that it was “good to have some practice voting before the real thing” (the real thing being the national election). While my dismissal was ill considered, I wager that it would line up with the attitudes of many voting New Zealanders, let alone those who don’t bother to vote at all.
To remedy this, perhaps we need to realise that national leaders are not the only ones who can effect change through governmental structures. There have been incredible examples of local politicians providing creative and expert leadership for their communities; regional representatives who find tailored solutions that centralised government couldn’t implement.
One of those leaders is Dale Williams, who recently retired as Mayor of Otorohanga. (Full disclosure, Dale is speaking at Maxim Institute’s upcoming event: “Wasted Youth?“.) Over nine years, Dale saw incredible change in his town and region, including youth unemployment dropping to 0%, youth crime statistics dropping by 75%, and the development of a hugely successful trades apprenticeship programme that reconnected school leavers with employers that had been struggling to find qualified staff.
The temptation to ignore the multitude of little-known local representatives like Dale and focus on their better known, and nationally powerful parliamentary colleagues is strong. Our view of leaders and representatives has been shaped by an increasing tendency by the media and political parties to plot national elections around an American presidential style runoff between two party leaders, revolving around head to head debates, preferred Prime Minister polls and magazine shoots of their home lives.
It took a friend of mine getting involved to help me see through the hype of national politics to the value of local representatives who advocate for our towns and suburbs. After all, local authority contains the word “local.” Representatives who live in your town, city or suburb, walking the same footpaths, driving around the same potholes and shopping at the same supermarket as you. Local government is the most accessible office we have—our local representatives have the flexibility to act in ways that best serve our specific communities, instead of having to balance the needs of the entire country.
There are others out there doing solid work like Dale. I reckon more of us need to get connected to our local politicians in our communities, and make a good thing even better.