Commentary

Important politics is local

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I keep pretty good track of changes in the Indiana Code, but I came across one recently that I had missed. As of last year, city police and firefighters no longer have to live inside their county or a bordering county. Now, they can live in a non-bordering county up to 50 miles from city limits.

That information came up in news stories about Kokomo. The city, having trouble increasing its police force from 80 to the budgeted level of 92, launched a website and created a TV commercial to recruit from a wider circle.

I wouldn’t exactly say the city is begging for applicants, but there is more than a hint of desperation in the effort.

The commercial criticizes cities that have adopted or considered policies to “defund the police,” as The Associated Press blandly reports it, and says to potential applicants that the city is “prepared to show you the respect you deserve as you protect the community we love. You’re welcome in Kokomo.”

I don’t which is sadder, that the city has to seek officers from as far away as South Bend and Indianapolis, or that it has to pledge not to give them up to the mob if they actually take their duties seriously.

It’s a reminder, with an election looming, that there is more on the ballot than president and members of Congress.

It is natural that we think most about the votes we cast at the federal level. When we select a president, senators and members of the House, we are doing more than putting specific people into office. We are also taking a philosophical stand and staking our claim on a worldview.

We are giving ourselves to something bigger, a vision of what America is or should be. It has always been so, but today, with a 24-hour news cycle and relentless social media magnifying everything, that sound of destiny knocking is ever louder.

But we should never forget that local officials, those toiling in city, county and state offices, are the ones who can do the most to make our day-to-day lives easier or more miserable.

They’re the ones in charge of how well our streets are paved and the garbage removed, how well-lit our neighborhoods and how many boarded-up homes they have. They can make starting a new business a pleasure or a nightmare. They can take the role of public servant seriously or delight in snarling us in bureaucratic pettiness.

The governor is the one who can declare an emergency and make us stay home. The mayor and council members are the ones who can handcuff the police or put the fire station too far way from our burning homes. The school board has the very future of our children in its hands.

When our basic rights are in question — whether they are about to be upheld or violated — those local officials are the ones on the front lines. How well we are treated will depend on how well we have chosen.

So, let’s be informed. Use a search engine to find what your local news organizations have said about the county and state candidates on the ballot. Check out organizations like Ballotpedia.org and vote.org. County and state political parties have websites, and most candidates these days do.

I’m not crazy about police living up to 50 miles away; I want the people keeping us safe to live in the place they protect and know local issues and challenges. But I understand how we got to the point where that might seem necessary.

Maybe this election sneaked up on everybody. But the next municipal elections in Indiana are still three years away. So, no excuses then.

 

Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at leoedits@yahoo.com.

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