All Politics is Local

Former speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once quipped that “All politics is local.” Apparently, southern Arizona’s own Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is content politicking from afar. She reportedly has no plans to run in the 2010 gubernatorial election for the post being vacated by Janet Napolitano (who’s also going to Washington). My question: why not?

Have people lost a sense of the value of local politics?

The GOP has traditionally looked to governors for their presidential candidates and for good reason. Years as a governor gives one many experiences that are useful as president. But removing these governors prematurely has adverse effects on the larger conservative movement. I think a better route may be to focus on breeding governors as governors and not as future presidential contenders. A former school mate of mine made similar points elsewhere – worth reading.

Conservatism is based in part on the principle of subsidiarity, the idea that if something can be done at the simplest level, it should take place there. So, we prefer local government action over the state, and the state over the federal government. (At its most fundamental level, we prefer the community (church, etc.), family, and ultimately the individual over anyone else.) Subsidiarity makes elected officials more accountable to their constituents. It is much easier to ignore phone calls and e-mails from constituents when they are over 2,000 miles away. But when you are on the City Council and you run into many people around town, you might listen more to the wishes of the voters.

In 2010, 36 states will have gubernatorial races. If conservatism is alive and well, as I am assured that it is, we should focus on filling governors’ mansions across the nation. Conservative governors have far more potential to reform the GOP and its policies in a positive way than a single presidential candidate. States are able to act as laboratories and governors are able to think outside the box to test out new and innovative solutions to problems facing many states and the nation overall. A broad consensus among governors allows for a more organic ideological shift throughout the nation. Given the inefficiency and increasing bureaucracy of Washington, state and local leaders have a chance to move ahead and show people that conservative policies work. Such a movement will go a long way to changing the face of the GOP on the national level.

And when the next GOP candidate needs to arise for 2012, we should turn to another beloved conservative principle, the free market. Let Jindal, Sanford, Palin, Pawlenty, and others get out there, give us their positions, and compete in the primaries. Let the best candidate emerge from those who compete. And this natural competition, if the media lets it, will yield a candidate who is able to explain conservative principles on a national level (hopefully, with a record to back it up).

I keep thinking that Obama was only a state senator a few years ago. The GOP has, as one person put it, given its candidacy to the Lifetime Achievement Award winner every four years. We need to look elsewhere. If we focus on the local races, I think a natural candidate will emerge.

(PS – Giffords was extremely successful with her reelection campaign, pummeling the opponent, Arizona State Senate President Tim Bee. She had no trouble raising funds and won easily by 12 points. I think the more likely route for Giffords may be to challenge John McCain for his Senate seat in 2010. Obama won Gifford’s Pima County by six points and McCain won the more populous Maricopa County by 12. Though Giffords is quite popular down here in southern AZ, I doubt she has the notoriety or political capital to gain the Senate seat. At the same time, I wonder how long McCain can hold on until voters want someone new.)

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