It’s funny how nearly one year after the 2016 presidential election, that event remains very much in the news as far as who colluded with who, etc., and probably will be a topic of conversation for many more months to come.
You’d think, judging by all the hours devoted to television “news” coverage of the election aftermath and the countless column inches in newspapers delegated to same, that it was the most important one ever.
This might well be the case in terms of the country being at a crossroads and choosing one of two vastly different paths, and how this will change the course of history regarding Supreme Court nominations and various policies. What the Trump presidency ends up accomplishing remains to be seen, but you can bet your boots it will be analyzed for years.
Meanwhile, local elections come and go with little fanfare, and that’s hard to figure because proportionately speaking they are much more important than presidential races based on the direct impact on our daily lives.
Other than making defense-related decisions that lead to soldiers from our area being placed in harm’s way, the president affects us average Americans to a negligible degree compared to city and county officials.
One exception is the recent tax reform movement, which certainly will affect take-home pay and have other implications. But this a rarity due to the fact that overhauls of our tax system only seem to occur every 20 years or so.
So other than getting us into a war, the power wielded by the president pales in comparison to that of Surry County and Mount Airy elected leaders.
Those folks collectively not only control property tax rates, but the lion’s share of funding for public schools, guide economic development that translates to jobs, oversee land-use and zoning issues directly affecting business and residential development and much more.
Yet somehow that lopsided level of importance does not translate into interest in local political races.
One example is the 2017 Mount Airy municipal election process now under way. Early voting for it began on Oct. 19 at the Surry Board of Elections in Dobson, and so far has produced lackluster results.
As of Thursday afternoon, only 34 people had cast ballots during the six total days of early voting in the county seat up to that point — a daily average of between five and six.
Of course, I can see why many Mount Airy residents wouldn’t want to drive to Dobson to vote, especially when they can cast ballots here in town by waiting a few days longer. I must assume that the city folks voting there so far either work in the county seat and are taking advantage of a convenient early voting location — or else they just enjoy going to Dobson.
When an early voting site opens Wednesday at the Mount Airy Municipal Building, I’m sure the turnout will increase, but I wouldn’t bet those same boots that the word “dramatically” will rightfully be applied to the actual numbers resulting. Hope I’m wrong.
Although this election is important due to affecting two-fifths of the seats on the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners as well as that of the mayor (with five total candidates involved), it has been low-key compared to the last city election in 2015.
As you might recall, it was a hotly contested affair centering on controversial plans by a local redevelopment commission and unlike 2017, affected three-fifths of the city board in addition to the mayoral post.
Given that the winners would have majority control of municipal government and set the stage for local decisions long-term, one might say that 2015 provided a Mayberry version of the 2016 presidential election.
But what resulted from the most-bitter and hard-fought Mount Airy campaign in years with regard to voter turnout? A measly 23 percent. Still, that was hailed triumphantly, since most city elections draw only about 7 percent, if I remember correctly.
And it’s appropriate to point out at this time that the much-ballyhooed 2016 presidential “race of the century,” “the election to end all elections,” drew 70.6 percent of Surry County’s registered voters to the polls. Based on all the hype, one might have guessed that figure to be near 100 percent.
The overall interest citizens have in local elections, or the lack thereof, is hard to figure, especially since officials go out of their way to make things easy, through programs such as early voting/same-day registration.
And all this has a cost to Mount Airy taxpayers, a total of around $13,000 to conduct the city election. So the least we can do as citizens is go to the polls and protect our investment.
Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.