The saying “all politics is local” is associated with former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill. It is true. When U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions rails against the demon weed marijuana, people reflexively react to their individual situation, whether you are a weed-smoking conservative redneck in Mississippi or a hippie liberal in San Francisco. When politicians in D.C. talk about infrastructure, people think locally of the crumbling bridge they drive across on their commute to work and not of a wall on the Mexican border.
One of the takeaways at U.S. Senator Michael Bennet’s town hall gathering in Gunnison held last week is that all politics is indeed local. The local mountain bike guy asked him about trails and the public lands initiative. The Crested Butte mayor brought up the Red Lady Mine. Older Gunnison County citizens addressed Medicare and Social Security. All politics is local. And Bennet came across as personable, smart and engaged with all of them as a U.S. senator should when touring the rural part of the state. He was working and he was pretty good up there in the courthouse.
So Senator Bennet spent a good hour and a half taking and answering questions and didn’t shy away from issues. Topics also included his recent vote to ease Dodd-Frank banking regulations, a vote that many Democrats found disappointing. Immigration, guns, infrastructure and, of course, President Trump were all discussed. While Betsy DeVos might be less a local political issue than trails on Forest Service land, the chaos of the Trump governing style impacts us all.
At the end of the day Bennet put a lot of the onus for the future of this country on the youth. The people in their 20s dealing with school shootings and big debt coming out of college, he said, need to become consistently and actively engaged if we basically want to keep the republic formed by the Founding Fathers. I suppose that has always been the case. But it seems to ring true more now than ever.
Recent statistics show that, generally, about 20 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 29 vote in presidential elections. That’s not good enough. At the same time, about 70 percent of people over the age of 65 vote in the same elections. And people generally vote for their own self-interest. You might expect that older voters want to make sure their Social Security is protected. Younger voters might be expected to look further into the future and demand action on something like climate change. Fair enough.
One thing I really like about Bennet is he is not afraid to try to work with members of the Republican Party to accomplish mutual goals. He was a member of the Gang of Eight that came up with a bipartisan immigration plan and a DACA path. He and fellow Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, a Republican, joined forces to try to protect Colorado public lands. Frankly, I am a believer we need more of that and a lot less partisan focus, where these days the endgame too often seems to be about power and not just debating with the other side but destroying them. Bennet said last week that he warned his party to not eliminate the senate filibuster for lower court judges, claiming at the time it would come back to haunt the Democrats. It did when Mitch McConnell went “nuclear” and got the latest Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch, approved with a simple majority.
The trend has been set and that is too bad. Such moves give into the passion of simple democracy where majority rules in the heat of the moment versus the logic of a republic that provides opportunity for consideration.
Bennet quoted one of my favorite historical figures, Benjamin Franklin, who, the story goes, emerged from Independence Hall at the close of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, when a woman asked him, “Well doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin replied, “A republic, madam—if you can keep it.”
We can still keep a vibrant republic moving forward in this increasingly divided country, but it takes work. Bennet touring the state and engaging with citizens is work. It also keeps the politics local. People paying attention to what is going on at the local, state and federal level is work. Most important, to keep politics an effective part of this great republic means voting. If you are 18 or 38 or 78, do not discard the right to vote this November. It really matters. It is what ultimately keeps the republic alive.