Former U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neill said famously that all politics is local. But you wouldn’t know it if you look at voter participation in local elections.

There are over 5.5 million people living in Colorado, and over 3.7 million registered voters in Colorado, yet only 1,244,365 people voted in local elections in 2015. Compare that to 2,855,960 Coloradans who cast ballots in the 2016 national election — one of the highest voter participation rates in the nation.

2017 will have important races for city and town councils, mayoral races, school board races and rural electric races. These positions impact jobs, wages, your neighborhood, education for your kids and grandkids, the environment, civil rights and equality, broadband, energy sourcing, growth policies, contracting opportunities, transportation, and quality of life. These local campaigns are often powered by the hard work of volunteers, not deep-pocketed contributors.

If we’re going to enact the change we need, we need to lead locally first.

It’s tempting to exhaust our political energy on Donald Trump and the dysfunctional Republicans in Congress right now.  But unless Republicans in Congress suddenly grow spines and start holding Trump accountable, we’re stuck with him for the next three-plus years.

Leading locally can be an even more powerful and productive use of our time.

Right now, there is a local progressive candidate in your area who is up for election in 2017. They don’t just need your vote, they need your help. As a candidate for office many times over, I know that a campaign is only as strong as its base of volunteers.

If everyone reading this column volunteered on just one school board candidate, one town council candidate, one mayoral race or one rural electric administration race, we would be able to enact enormous positive change for all Coloradans at the local level, and put a local check on one-party Republican rule in Washington. That’s why we’re calling on everyone to lead locally and commit to adopting one local race in your area in 2017.

If you’re sick of Republicans in Washington refusing to address jobs that pay a living wage, then go out in 2017 and help elect a mayor who will raise wages in your area

If you’re concerned that Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is going to gut your local public schools, then go out in 2017 and help elect a school board candidate who will protect your kids’ public education.

If you’re upset that Trump has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accord, then go out in 2017 and help elect candidates who will address air quality, sprawl and support renewable energy at the local level, or help elect a progressive majority to the board of the Rural Electric Association.

There is so much we can do at a local level to make our lives and our neighbors’ lives better by getting the right people into office. That’s why we’re encouraging Coloradans to adopt a local race and pour your energy into these local campaigns right now in 2017.

There are many other benefits to getting involved in local races. First, you’re helping to cancel out the corrosive effect of big money on politics. Federal law allows corporations and the super-wealthy to dump vast sums of money into our elections, but they can’t match an army of grassroots volunteers committed to social change.

Second — when you get involved locally, you have the very best chance of meeting and getting to know your local candidates, and that amplifies your voice.  You make an investment in your community. You lead by example about how democracy should work.   There’s also a social benefit — political campaigns are a place where people can come together to achieve a common goal.  Local leadership can be a role model to the country on how solve problems and put the needs of people and communities first.

Finally – practice makes habit. Americans who volunteer on political campaigns once tend to make a habit of it. The skills you gain working on a local campaign can be put to use in 2018 and 2020 and beyond.

Instead of focusing on what we can’t do in Washington, we should focus on what we can do in our own communities.  You can visit to find your current elected officials and what districts you live in.  You can also ask your city or school board for a list of all filed candidates.   Every single registered voter will receive a mail ballot for the November 2017 election.

Know your power.  Adopt a race.  Vote.  Volunteer.  Be heard. This year, in 2017, let’s commit to leading locally and electing responsive, accessible, diligent, hard-working candidates to local offices across the state.

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