By: Copeland Jacobs, Staff Writer
The oft-repeated phrase “all politics is local” is attributed by one ABC article to former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill. However, an American Bar Association document has O’Neill attributing the phrase to his own father. Less auspiciously, Wiktionary variously pins the phrase on a duo of early twentieth-century newspapermen Finley Peter Dunne and Byron Price.
With the presidential election midterms already prevalent in national news, it is easy to forget local politics, which is paradoxical because the effects of local decision-making and policies are felt more immediately, and the politicians themselves are more accessible. They may live down the street from those who vote them in and out of office.
Local elections are far less abstract than national elections. In a national election, issues are often too large, intangible, and controversial for constructive debate. By contrast, in a local election, most issues are within range of the unaided eyeball. The Woodruff mayoral race is between incumbent Kenneth Gist and former mayor Brad Burnett, who have already run against each other.
Voter turnout in Woodruff is low. In the 2019 mayoral election, Gist won with 271 votes to Burnett’s 171, with three write-in votes cast for other candidates. The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2020 that the population of Woodruff was 4,212, meaning around 3,767 residents did not vote. A little under ten percent of the town decided who would serve as mayor. A city council election in 2022 witnessed a similarly low turnout, with a total of twenty people voting, sixteen in person and four by mail.
Woodruff is hardly exceptional. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “fewer than half of the electorate vote in most elections” in America. Americans have the choice to vote and the choice not to vote, something which is not universal. This is in contrast to countries like Australia and Belgium, where according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, voting is mandatory, and non-voters are punished with fines.
Dictatorships also hold elections where choice is not an option. According to an Economist article, North Korea holds elections which “are not really elections at all.”
Regardless of whether all, some, or none of Woodruff votes in a local election, parties are less important. In this instance, they are entirely absent. Gist was previously quoted as stating he was “pro-Woodruff,” and as a small-town mayor, outside party politics, and although Burnett mentioned his “conservative mindset,” also did not mention a party affiliation.
As mentioned by Gist, changes are coming to Woodruff, such as new businesses like Ingles and a facility to fill the medical care gap. Woodruff residents were asked on social media what issues mattered most to them during this election cycle. Some important issues to Woodruff include the traffic problems on Main Street and the homeless in the town. These were mentioned in multiple responses.
Judging from the responses, Woodruff residents are also concerned about the variety and type of businesses operating in the town. One resident expressed unhappiness with the high numbers of “bars and pubs” relative to clothing and grocery stores. Another asked for zoning to force junk clean-up, and another for updates to infrastructure to keep up with population growth.