I have a goal to walk 1,000 miles this year, and I am on pace to do it. Of the 634.5 miles I've covered so far, most have been along a specific stretch of Davis Boulevard by my home. I know my course well, soaking in the beauty of Bountiful four or five times a week, appreciating the ever-so-slight changes that occur from day to day, greeting with a wave and a smile the dozens of regulars who shuffle, bike, jog and train on that stretch of road.
Last week early in the morning coming down a small hill on my route, I discovered a massive machine parked on the side of the street. It rested there, its sooty white exoskeleton supporting an open maw full of hundreds of long, steel fangs hovering over the asphalt — a hungry monster, a road eater. By the time I returned home from work, the surface road was gone, replaced by thousands of teeth marks and orange and white construction barriers marking off the space like a crime scene. The public works crews had arrived, the machinery of local government moving forward, methodically, with the never-ending process of renewal.
Cities and towns are the front line of government services for most Utahns, providing protection, clean water, waste disposal and treatment, streets, parks, libraries, cultural celebrations, snow removal, garbage collection and dozens of other services for their citizens. The wheels of local government are always turning; so reliably in fact that we rarely worry or even think much about them. Every couple of years, we elect mayors and city councils to organize, oversee and direct the affairs of our cities, delegating to them the burden of responsibility, trusting them to plan for the future while we go about our individual lives.
Next week, municipal primaries will be held throughout the state. I encourage each one of us to get to know the candidates and cast our votes on Tuesday, Aug. 13. If recent history is any indication, voter turnout will be extremely low. Every vote will count; the future direction of your city may actually hang in the balance.
The maxim that "all politics are local" is not only a general admonition for elected leaders to listen to their constituents, but a specific recognition of the seamless, symbiotic relationship people have with their municipal governments. When you stop to think about it, municipal elections probably have a more measureable, though much less glamorous, impact on your life than a presidential election. We can, and have, endured a seemingly endless cycle of gridlock and mismanagement in Washington, keeping our pitchforks and torches to ourselves. We will, however, march right down to city hall when our power goes out for more than five minutes or if our water pressure is too low. When it comes to quality of life, effective, competent city leadership makes all the difference. The opposite is also true. Just ask the survivors of Detroit.
There are 243 cities and towns in Utah, and 83 percent of us live within one of their boundaries. Whether you live in Schofield with a population of 26 or you live in Salt Lake City, with 200,000 or so neighbors, the fundamental issues are the same. Decades ago, John F. Kennedy said "we will neglect our cities to our peril, for in neglecting them we neglect the nation." May we, who are richly blessed to live in the great state of Utah, be more attentive to the management and direction of our own communities, by actively participating in our local governments. We can re-engage by voting on Tuesday.
Dan Liljenquist is a former state senator and U.S. Senate candidate.
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