Massachusetts State House.
Policy Library

All Politics Really is Local

June 16, 2011

Tip O’Neill once said “all politics is local,” when asked to describe how the problems and concerns of towns and cities around the country affect the actions of their Congressmen and Senators in Washington, D.C.  This remains as true today as it was then.

Big-city politics start with small-town political issues.  Or said another way, what may seem important to only a discrete group of people – like lawyers – can actually end up being good policy for everyone.  For example, the new Massachusetts Homestead Reform Act is good consumer policy for all.  Similarly, this year’s effort to keep the probation department in the judicial branch where judges can closely monitor probationers is important to every city and town in Massachusetts.  But the wisdom in the late Congressman’s phrase isn’t limited to how politics works on Capitol Hill or Beacon Hill.  The phrase can also apply to building an effective campaign strategy.

On June 22nd, the BBA’s Public Interest Leadership Program (“PILP”) will host their annual “All Politics is Local” program.  Every year PILP participants put this program together to inspire and encourage attorneys to run for office.  Panelists often talk about what it means to be a lawyer and to be actively involved in local politics.  They’ll describe the basics of starting a campaign and the challenges of balancing an active law practice with what it takes to run for office.  This year’s panel includes: the Honorable Maura Doyle, the clerk of the Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County; William Kennedy, a former chief legal counsel to the Office of the Speaker of the House and now a partner at Nutter, McClennen & Fish; Joseph Driscoll, a former state representative and now a senior vice president at O’Neill and Associates; and Michael Day, an associate at Mintz Levin who ran for state senate in 2010.

A race for public office at the local level does not usually depend on huge campaign budgets, prime time television ads, or highly publicized debates.  It’s more common to hear stories of worn out shoes, scoured rolodexes and hours spent knocking on doors.  Running for office is daunting, but serving in public office can be gratifying.  A campaign provides only a limited amount of time to capture the imagination of voters and differentiate your vision from that of your opponents.

While the practice of law has long been seen as a launching pad for political candidates, that’s no longer true. This past election cycle saw a 20 percent drop in lawyer-legislators at the State House.  The number fell from 65 to 53 out of a total of 200 legislators.  Still, lawyers need not run for office in order to be involved in local politics.  After all, part of being a lawyer is being an active citizen.

-Kathleen Joyce

Government Relations Director

Boston Bar Association