photo: Just Us 3 (flickr)

There’s nothing that the people running campaigns in downticket races fear more than a tidal wave at the top of the ticket. Some voters will be discouraged at being swept away by the wave, and won’t come to the polls. Other voters, excited to be part of the wave, will come and vote in that big race and maybe a couple more, but then leave the booth and neglect the other races entirely.

But next week, which seems destined to turn DC into gridlock once more, may prove the importance of those downticket races.

Foreclosure fraud: If your state is electing an attorney general, the results on Tuesday may determine how weak or strong a voice you will have in standing up to robosigners, filers of false affidavits and legal papers in courts, and other unscrupulous legal practices engaged in by the financial industry. Having a state AG willing to stand up for the rule of law, rather than the convenience of the banks, may be the best safeguard any homeowner could ask for, given the lack of any meaningful federal oversight.

Health insurance reform: The absence of a public option, the continued ban on drug reimportation, and the shackles placed on Medicare that prevent them from negotiating prices more strongly all combine to neuter the market forces that might have reined in PhRMA and Big Insurance. For people angry over the whole mess, what’s left? State regulation. Some states are scrambling to improve their regulatory structures for the new system, while others are more prepared for it. If your state has an election for state insurance commissioner (or whatever the chief regulator is called), this may be the biggest election no one is talking about. Rules will be set for the state insurance exchanges, escalating rate requests will have to be approved, and a thousand and one details will have to be dealt with. Since DC punted on holding back PhRMA and Big Insurance, state insurance commissioners will have to.

School boards: Beyond the headlines garnered when the Texas Board of Education tries to rewrite history, or when Kansas TheoCons try to play God and remake science in their own image, school boards don’t get a lot of press. But when states and local governments are cutting budgets left and right, school boards are one of the big places that feel the pinch, and the disasters that can result from bad school policies are, well, disastrous. Maintenance gets deferred, pink slips go out, and everything gets squeezed as administrators try to stretch things as far as they can. Local school boards matter, and the more of a mess things are at the national and state levels, the more critical having a good local school board becomes.

I could go on and on — city council elections, bond issues, local zoning issues, regulation of puppy mills, etc. Top-ticket races get the headlines, but when times are rough, it’s the local races that may matter more. Most folks still have a couple of days to find a sample ballot, look past the top tier races, and dig into the critical things buried down below.

It’s worth the effort. The house, the health, and the schools you save may be your own.

(photo h/t: Just Us 3)