Get Involved in Local Government: A Student’s Guide

If the prevalence of political blogs and 24 hour political news outlets isn’t proof enough, the rising voter turnout in recent U.S. elections points to a rise in the public’s interest and participation in politics. This is a great thing, because as more people begin to understand and engage in politics on a local and/or state level, the more vibrant our democracy becomes.

What budding politicians should first take into account as they begin charting their political goal map are the three main arenas of American politics: national, state and local. On the state and local level in particular, there are countless opportunities for many of us to begin getting involved politically. Take a look at the information and resources below to find out more about how state or local politics is a great place to start your political career.

How to Get Involved in State and Local Politics

There has been a lot of criticism lately about “big money” in politics, and how personal wealth has come to determine the weight of a citizen’s voice. While much of this criticism is very much warranted, on the state and local level, even the most frugal of us has a shot to make a difference politically. Moreover, it is the new generation of local and state politicians that will set the standard for how our political system is run in the future–so now’s an excellent time to get involved.

At the state and local level, there are several opportunities for most of us to get involved in the political system. As a matter of fact, check your last ballot and count how many local candidates for political office were running unopposed. Essentially, this means that this individual was not only the only choice for that particular position (and a single choice is never good in democratic government), but there was also little to no debate about what the person would do once in office.

It’s worthwhile for citizens and potential candidates to thoroughly investigate these political offices and ask themselves and they current representative what more can be done. An educated community will better identify qualified opponents on the incumbent’s next ballot run.

Local Government Offices

While most of us who are eligible to hold political office in the United States are free to run for any elected government position on the local, state and even national level, keep in mind that you also need to meet a number of stringent qualifications to convince voters you are the right candidate for the job. Today, a greater number of voters are closely following our political appointees and are making sure they have the qualifications to fit the position.

A city council position is an example of a role within local government that does not hold many specific qualification requirements (aside from having the legal ability to hold public office). However, a successful city council person will want to have long-standing and positive ties with the people who comprise the communities they represent. This is why it is so important that the budding local politician is not afraid to get to know the people in their communities.

An example of local government offices that may require some specific experience and know-how are elected positions within law enforcement. Obviously, none of us should expect to campaign against a sitting judge or sheriff fresh out of college with an undergraduate degree. While the same individual may have several other great opportunities to pursue local political office, positions such as these often require decades of schooling and experience in the candidates pursuing them.

State Government Offices

On the state level, things get a bit more complex. Like the national stage, the political chances for a brand new politician in a large state such as California or Texas can be slim. This is due to gerrymandering and the complexities of having to politically accommodate a huge population of mostly diverse individuals. It can take years, if not decades, to learn about one’s constituents on a state level and many of those who make it were first successful in local politics.

On the other hand, individuals who live in a smaller state or city where it is much easier to get to know the needs and politics of the communities can often make it to state office without much time spent in politics. Remember, the key to being successful in politics, in the end, is to get people to know that you have everyone’s best interests at heart and the ability to make good things happen in the political arena. Also, it doesn’t hurt to start out as a famous movie star like two stars-turned-state governors of California, Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It’s Smart to Start Small

For those of us with our eyes set on becoming a national politician, or even president, getting involved in state or local government is an excellent first step towards this goal. Not only will a position in local or state government provide valuable experience in understanding and representing constituents, but it also serves to introduce budding politicians to the more aggravating aspects of politics before they make it to the national arena.

The last few election cycles in the United States have shown newly invigorated voters that their voices do matter. In keeping with this new spirit of political participation, newer and less experienced candidates in the early stages of planning campaigns of their own. If you are one of these people, or even if you are new to understanding the American political scene, we hope the information above has helped you to see the challenges and benefits of getting involved in state and local politics.