Your favorite presidential candidate won’t bring all the change you want to see in your community, but your local electeds just might.
by Lan Nguyen, AAPI FORCE-EF communications manager
If you’re anything like me, you were probably up all night of the Iowa caucus, refreshing your twitter feed to see if your presidential candidate made the cut. You’ve watched all the debates. You’ve donated to a political campaign for the first time in your life. The big day finally comes. You get your ballot and immediately fill in the bubble next to the name that’s been stickered on your laptop for the last year.
WHAT ARE THESE OTHER BOXES?!?!?
What is a district attorney? What does a city council member do? A representative in Congress? Why is there a state senate and a U.S. Senate?!?! Is it okay to skip over these? These things don’t make a difference in our lives right?!
Your city, county, and state governments make a really big impact on your lives. Arguably, they make an even bigger impact on your day to day than the president. Change begins from the ground up. This is especially true in California, where we used local policies as a way to push back against harmful federal laws, such as when we made California a Sanctuary State to protect immigrant communities. These local laws changed the relationship between law enforcement agencies and immigrants, resulting in immediate protections for immigrants in these communities. But the opposite can also be said, such as when local city councils voted to sue the state and opt out of the Sanctuary Law, in an attempt to abolish these protections.
So, as you can see, government on ALL levels can make a HUGE impact on your life. And with a low voter turnout in local elections (only 48% of registered voters participate in city council elections in CA), your vote can go a long way too. This list of local elections that have been determined by one vote proves how important your vote is. Don’t throw it away!
Here’s a breakdown of what each local office does and how they may impact you and your loved ones.
- Approves and monitors city budget
- Authorizes construction and developments
- Introduces and passes local ordinances/policies
- Oversees local public services (affordable housing, libraries, sanitation, construction development guidelines, etc.)
Examples of City Councils making a BIG impact in their communities
- Oakland City Council prohibited landlords from asking about criminal history or rejecting tenants for having a record.
- San Diego City Council voted to ban people from sleeping in their cars
- Long Beach City Council created a legal defense fund for residents facing deportation.
- Manages prosecutor’s office and investigates alleged crimes
- Decides what crimes to charge
- Controls plea deals that are offered
- Decides whether to send people to state prison or less costly alternative
- Decides whether or not to prosecute police officers in cases of abuse
Examples of how District Attorneys have made an impact:
- Sacramento District Attorney did not charge police officers for shooting and killing Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man.
- San Joaquin District Attorney pilots a program that allows for restorative justice rather than a prison sentence.
- San Francisco DA ends cash bail for all criminal cases.
Board of Education
- Approve textbooks & curriculum materials
- Decide to open/close schools
- Approve and monitor budget
- Influence disciplinary policies such as restorative justice, police presence in schools, etc.
- Investigates cases of racism and abuse in district employees
Examples of how the Board of Education have made an impact:
- LAUSD Board of Education voted to make ethnic studies a graduation requirement.
- SFUSD Board of Education provided affordable housing for teachers in San Francisco.
County Board of Supervisors
- Oversees operations of County government
- Pass and repeal county ordinances (laws)
- Approves county budget
- Approves of county contracts (such as contracts with private prisons)
Examples of how the County Board of Supervisors have made an impact:
- San Diego Board of Supervisors funds more services for people who are homeless.
- Activists call on accountability from the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors for jail deaths.
State Senator & State Assembly
- Represents your local district in the CA State Legislature
- Makes state laws (impacting housing, immigration, education, healthcare, and more)
- Establishes state budgets
How state senators and state assembly members have made an impact:
- CA assembly members pass bill to give 2 years of free community college to CA residents.
- CA state senate pass bill requiring presidential candidates to release tax returns in order to be listed on the CA ballot.
U.S. Representative in Congress
- Represents your local district in U.S. House of Representatives
- Introduce and vote on federal bills (impacting housing, immigration, education, healthcare, and more)
- Raise revenue through taxes
- Can call for impeachment of president.
How U.S. Congressional reps have made an impact:
- House of Representatives votes on repealing Trump’s Muslim Ban
- U.S. House of Representatives pass resolution to limit Trump’s ability to wage war
Now that you have a better sense of what these different offices do and how they can make a BIG impact on your life and the things you care about, I bet you’re excited to vote! To find out which candidate best suits your values, you can go to their websites, contact local community groups that you trust to see if they’ve endorsed anyone, or in some cases, even request to speak with the candidate yourself!
Get out there and vote! And obviously make sure to educate yourself and your friends and vote down the ballot!!
To share graphics of this information on social media, check us out at @aapiforceef on facebook, twitter, and instagram!