Most people in Berkeley and the country follow national politics somewhat closely. It receives the lion’s share of media coverage, and is certainly important in its own right. But even though developments in Washington, DC get more attention, they are much less important than politics on the state level.
In the past year, a sample of the laws and ballot measures passed in California include legalizing marijuana, forbidding local law enforcement agencies from working with federal immigration authorities, raising taxes to pay for more housing, and imposing more regulations on polluters. A bill proposed to create a single-payer healthcare system was shelved in the state assembly. These bills have a phenomenal impact on the lives of Californians. Even the most monumental bills considered on the federal level are only slightly more impactful than the legislation that is considered each year.
States have this much power because of how our government is designed. Currently, authority on many crucial issues is delegated to the states, not the federal government. Issues such as marijuana legalization, election law, and many other local issues are controlled by the states, not the federal government.
Not only are state politics more important, it’s also easier for the average citizen to advocate for their beliefs on a state level than on a national level. In the most recent statewide senate election, over twelve million voters cast ballots. Each of those votes is a constituent, with different needs and wants from their senator. The voice of one citizen, while important, is a drop in the bucket compared to that. The nation is just too large and too widespread for the voice of the average citizen to have any real impact.
However, this is not true for state level politics. Local representatives such as Tony Thurmond and Nancy Skinner, who represent Berkeley in the state Assembly and Senate, are much more local. Their staffs and offices have the ability to be much more responsive to constituents, simply because they have fewer constituents to deal with. If people want to advocate for political change, it’s much more efficient and effective to do it on the state level.
Another reason to follow state politics is that it is simply more uplifting. While this may sound trivial, it really does matter. Congress has failed to accomplish a single legislative goal this past year. The state legislature, on the other hand, has passed a massive collection of major legislation such as making California a sanctuary state, and establishing a cap and trade system. For most people in Berkeley, following state politics could be a refreshing break from the nastiness and gridlock of the federal government. Reading about national politics is a depressing and disheartening experience for most Californians, but state politics offers an optimistic alternative that actually gets things done.
Despite the importance and accessibility of state politics, they receive next to no media attention. Currently, most newspapers and news programs are read and watched nationwide. This means that they tend to focus on events in the federal government, even trivial ones. A reader or viewer in Wyoming doesn’t care about the politics of California, and vice versa.
This is reflected in the rest of the media’s coverage choices. Even events which are vitally important to Californians are totally unimportant to the rest of the country, so the media has no reason to cover them.
This is not the fault of the media; they are only reporting what is most relevant to their wide audience. Nevertheless, it still causes serious harm to political discourse by skewing coverage to the less important topic of national politics.
This puts the civically engaged citizen in a bind. While state and local politics is extremely important, it can be difficult to get information on it compared to national politics. Fortunately, while information on national politics is everywhere, information on state politics is still available.
Many major publications, including Politico and the New York Times, offer accessible collections of news stories about California politics. Glancing over those occasionally can help someone stay informed. In addition, most local newspapers have many articles about state politics, although they are usually not on the front page. While it can often be difficult to follow state politics, it is certainly possible to stay informed with some effort.
State politics isn’t trivial or irrelevant; it is vitally important and should be followed much more closely by citizens. It affects actual policy much more than national politics, and lacks the gridlock that plagues national politics, and because of its smaller scale, the voices of citizens carry more weight. It deserves much more than the scant attention it has.