In electing a president this year, America will grapple with the Big Issues: immigration, gun control, climate change, health care, national security. What is more cherished, the rights of individuals or the rights of corporations? Abroad, should America continue engaging in wars in remote countries that seem endless and hazily intentioned? At home, should America err on the side of safety or of compassion?
Who gives a rat’s patototie? Here in Dade, practically every important elected seat is up for grabs. That’s big enough for the likes of me. For people who have never worked for a hometown newspaper, the Big Issues are, well, Big. To me, longtime reporter for the local rag, they’re just stuff one argues about pointlessly at cocktail parties. (And only, for that matter, when all of one’s acquaintances are rolling along sedately in their LTRs so there’s no juicy gossip to sling around instead.) (Even concerning one’s friend Sardo who used to be so reliable.)
Yes, I know Big Issues affect our lives. Health care, for example, affects everybody, but I’ve given up bellowing about that. What good did it ever do? Before, the health insurance companies were screwing everybody and the government was letting them; now the health insurance companies are screwing everybody and the government is paying them. Except in the case of the really poor, who can go screw themselves because they don’t qualify for the subsidies and our Southern governors have kept Medicaid from expanding—
OK. So I do keep bellowing about it.
But while it’s tempting to rant about national issues, it’s mostly a matter of spitting in the wind. Change will come, but on the national level, there are so many conflicting interests involved, such push and such pull, that it takes its sweet time and it’s hard to imagine that anything one person does can make any discernible difference.
Local politics is a different kettle of fish.
In Dade County, one person standing up at a county or city commission meeting is a force to reckoned with. Two are a Movement. And if three people complain to their commissioner about some issue, he will announce with a perfectly straight face, “I have been overwhelmed by calls about”—
I love local government! It’s democracy the way it’s supposed to be, immediate, mostly fair, not unduly partisan. The Republican-v-Democrat divide makes no sense here. It’s not just that Democrats and Republicans are the same kind of people, it’s that they’re the same people, most of our elected officials having switched parties with recent public mood swings in the interest of being (not to put too fine a point on it) elected officials.
Above all, local government is responsive. If you don’t believe me, go to a county commission meeting with some local problem and see what happens. During my stint of keeping Dade safe for democracy, I saw sweeping changes at the water company and restructuring of a whole branch of county government, just because one volunteer fireman stood up and announced that half the county’s fire hydrants didn’t work.
Of course, nothing the Dade County Commission does is likely to affect how the Supreme Court rules on Big Issues like abortion or gun control. On the other hand, if you have a fire at your house, it’s quite possible you will care more about the hydrant out front than about anything the Supreme Court might have to say.
The more local an issue is, the more important it is in the daily lives of locals. I used to rant and rave in my old paper about health care but I got much more response to an article about a proposed downtown renovation project—people didn’t want to lose parking spaces on the square.
Likewise, they were inclined to holler about proposed extra fees at the county dump, and the very mention of zoning would have them lined up around the courthouse. Gay marriage, grim marriage, who cares? Just don’t tell us where we can pull up a trailer!
So to me, local politics trump national politics every time. They affect us more, so it’s just as well we can affect them more. People certainly ought to devote themselves less to complaining about national government and more to paying attention to local government. But who has time?
Yes. That’s the role of your local newspaper. Traditionally, big newspapers cover larger governments, little papers smaller ones. Lately, that’s not happening. Big newspapers are becoming alarmingly smaller and as for the little ones? In Dade, we saw our local weekly go from an editor and a couple of reporters to two part-time writers to one – me – and finally, as the saying goes, then there were none.
Except I’m still here.
I loved covering the Dade news and I haven’t been happy doing anything else. Furthermore, I feel that I’m needed, that we’re not seeing enough local news here, and how long has it been since you saw a local feature?
So there’s a gap, and I aim to fill it with The Planet. I intend to write the best local news coverage going, first for Dade County, perhaps later for points south; and to provide the kind of features and columns that I know readers love.
My ability to do that, and ultimately to expand into print and to add sections I can’t write myself—I am thinking sports here; a girl knows her limitations—depends on finding advertisers. We’ll see how that goes! Plus, I’m still struggling with tech issues. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy reading The Planet as much as I enjoy writing it. It is what Mr. Shakespeare called a consummation devoutly to be wished. Did you really think I could sit out an election year?