Washington and Greene counties would seem to be a universe removed from Los Angeles.
Except in one way.
Our region and the land of palm trees and the “Hollywood” sign both experienced paltry turnouts in Tuesday’s elections.
About 20 percent of Los Angeles voters cast ballots in the election that will put Eric Garcetti in the mayor’s office. That’s about 400,000 voters in a city where 2 million people are eligible to vote. And with an estimated $33 million being spent on the race, that works out to about $82.50 per voter.
Much less money was lavished on the marquee primary contest in Washington County, the two open seats on the county’s Common Pleas Court, and on Greene County’s sheriff’s race, the headlining attraction in Waynesburg and its environs. But, like our compatriots on the West Coast, turnout was only about 20 percent.
When thinkers about political and cultural life stroke their chins about low voter turnout in this country, particularly in comparison to other democracies that have greater levels of participation, some theorize that Americans are so turned off by politics that they don’t believe their vote makes a difference and that the two main parties are only slightly different in their approaches. Potential voters, these observers believe, are skeptical of promises and turned off by negative advertising.
On the other hand, there’s also a school of thought that has settled around the idea that Americans are fundamentally content with their lot, and are more inclined to head to the polls only when they are roiling in discontent.
The truth is surely much more complex. We’re a much more mobile, much more atomized society than we once were, and many people feel much looser ties to the communities they call home. A family living in a Cecil Township subdivision could have moved there from, say, Indianapolis, and both parents commute in to Pittsburgh. In a couple of years, depending on which way the corporate winds or job opportunities blow, they could end up in Cleveland, Charlotte, N.C., Phoenix or who knows where.
And that family also could be pressed for time, and the lack of it is one reason many respondents give to researchers about why they don’t vote.
But state Rep. Jesse White made an excellent point in a column that appeared in the Observer-Reporter last Sunday – local contests have a great impact on many lives. Far greater than many people imagine.
One of the common raps on Washington, D.C., is it’s a town full of people marinating in solipsism, with platoons of elected officials, bureaucrats, lobbyists, journalists and aides wandering about in a cosseted universe, blissfully unacquainted with the struggles of everyday Americans.
Proponents of this view were given ammunition aplenty in a remark that former Hillary Clinton aide Patti Solis Doyle recently made to The Washington Post. Solis Doyle pointed out that, nowadays, she speaks at about a dozen events a year, and she earns about $5,000 to $10,000 per speech. That’s still between $60,000 to $120,000 per year, which most of us would consider more than adequate recompense. However, Solis Doyle joked that if only Clinton had fared better, “I’d be making $50,000 for speeches instead of $10,000 for speeches.”
Sigh. I’m sure we’re all tempted to weep bitter tears at this development.