Your state and local representatives matter just as much as your president


Photo courtesy/ Unsplash Matthew Bornhors

What issues matter most to you? So often, we associate progress and the enactment of change on critical issues in America with the President of the United States. When change is needed, we all have a knee-jerk reaction to look to the President for answers. We expect the President to address all of our problems, so much so that most Americans only bother to vote every four years.

Most of the time, we are looking for answers in the wrong places. It is your state and local representatives — your state senator, assembly member, mayor, town and/or city council member, etc. — who have the greatest impact on your day-to-day life. State and local elected officials have the power to address the vast majority of issues that the average American cares about. Do not just take my word for it – let me show you.

One of the most controversial topics in the United States is access to abortion. We think of abortion as a federal issue, dealt with by the President and the U.S. Supreme Court. While this is true, much of what happens regarding the issue is up to the states. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion does not automatically become illegal across America. Rather, states make their own abortion laws. In 2019, the New York State legislature passed into law the Reproductive Health Act (RHA), which codified abortion protections and expanded reproductive health rights for women. By passing the RHA, New York’s elected officials protected a woman’s right to choose, regardless of what may happen at the federal level.

The wider umbrella of healthcare is another issue that dominates federal politics. Many young people, particularly those who identify as progressives, advocate for universal healthcare coverage through a single-payer, government-controlled system, by which every American would receive coverage. The New York State legislature is currently considering the NY Health Act, which would create a universal single-payer healthcare plan in New York. Based on its current support in the New York State Senate, it is less than five votes (and a governor’s signature) away from becoming law. 

The examples above are not anomalies. If your top issue is taxes, please recognize that much of the taxes people pay are at a state and local level. If you care about the environment, look at state legislation like New York’s 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which aims to get New York to 100% zero-emission electricity by the year 2040. If you’re wondering why the counting of ballots in the Presidential election has been so erratic, understand that every single state in the union has its own laws for conducting elections. 

Change happens at a local level. If we want things to improve, it starts with what we do and whom we elect in our local communities. Perform a Google search to see who was just elected as your next state (and local) representatives. Although you might not see them on CNN or Fox News, they will have just as much of an impact on your life as the next President will.