In the tiny Alaskan town of Talkeetna, Mayor Stubbs presides. He is, in human terms, about 100 years old. He is a cat. And he has been Mayor of this town for 16 years. Isn't that adorable? It is adorable. And I'm sure if you're a resident of Talkeetna, having a cat as Mayor has little impact on the town's operations. I'm guessing that the issues there are pretty much the same each year: how to stay warm and not get eaten by bears. So why not have a cat as your mayor?
November is approaching and the public's interest in the mid-term national elections seems very blasé. In D.C., control of both the House and the Senate may end up with the Republicans, but if such were to happen their majority would be slim. The Affordable Care Act will not be repealed. Major legislation, such as tax and immigration reform does have a shot of moving forward. But forcing a government shutdown over rising debts is not politically palatable as the 2016 presidential elections loom. Gridlock in D.C. will likely continue.
However, this election is crucial to business owners and cat lovers too. Sorry, cat-lovers: I'm not seeing any cats on the ballot next month. But Mayor Stubbs is a symbol. He represents the importance of this year's local referendums. Issues that have a tremendous affect on both your family and your business. And here's why.
Fracking and pensions. Mayor Stubbs comes from an oil-rich state so I would imagine he would have a particular interest in what's happening in Pennsylvania, my home state. That's because there's an important Governor's race going on that mirrors other similar races across the country. The Republican incumbent has been trailing badly in the polls, mostly because of his unpopular stance on pension reform. He wants to limit pensions and cut spending in order to get the state's budget in better shape. His Democratic opponent, a former businessman, believes that higher taxes on the energy companies that are fracking shale in the Western part of the state, along with more spending on schools will be the best road to future growth. Fracking battles are going on in parts of Texas, Ohio and Colorado. Taxing and environmental issues around the practice is a major issue. Pension reform and cost cutting remains a high priority everywhere. How will this affect your local economy, your community, your business? Vote.
Minimum Wage. I understand that in Talkeetna, some public officials are known to survive on a daily bowl of Meow Mix and an occasional small bird. But this is not a trend. In fact over just this past year, many local municipalities took up the President's call to raise their minimum wage. Seattle, for example, has raised its minimum wage to $15 per hour, which will be phased in over the next few years. This November four states (Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota) and a bunch of cities across the country including San Francisco, San Diego and Las Cruces (the second largest city in New Mexico) are among those local municipalities with minimum wage referendums on the ballot. A recent poll found that two-thirds of small business owners support a minimum wage increase and 81 percent of those surveyed already pay their hourly workers above the minimum wage. Do you? And how much of an increase, if any, is acceptable? Vote.
Marijuana. Mayor Stubbs will neither confirm or deny this, but rumor has it that he enjoys a little catnip now and then. Hey, more power to him. And he's apparently not alone. Many areas of the country are heading towards legalizing the human form of catnip this election. In fact, in dozens of cities and no less than seven states (Oregon, Florida, California, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico and Stubbs' homestate), D.C. and the U.S. territory of Guam have referendums permitting the medical use of marijuana or de-criminalizing possession of small amounts, amongst other related marijuana issues. Does this affect your business? Is your state leaning towards future legalization, ala Colorado, that may be an opportunity for you? Is this a good time to start selling giant bags of Doritos on a Friday night? Or, all kidding aside, do you believe this will impact your town's children, safety or health? Vote.
A few other items. In Anchorage, the Responsible Labor Act veto referendum is asking citizens to weigh in on the rights of union workers. There are measures to restrict sugary drinks on ballots in San Francisco and Berkeley, California. Voters in Hawaii are being asked if they support the current practices of creating and raising genetically modified crops. David Beckham wants to build a soccer stadium in Miami. Wichita, Kansas wants to raise its sales taxes. A measure in Pocatello, Idaho would, if approved repeal a city ordinance that prohibited discrimination based on a person's sexual orientation or gender identity. And the Mayor of Talkeetna, Alaska is proposing a town-wide ban on dogs. Just kidding.
But these are all huge issues that affect small businesses throughout the country. Your business and my business. All national movements begin at the grassroots level, so don't think that an ordinance passed in a few Western states will not impact you because you're on the East coast. They will. And if local elections point towards higher minimum wages, less pensions or legal marijuana you need to be prepared too.
So remember, my fellow cat-lovers and business owners: this election year may not be as critical in Washington but it's very critical locally. Vote. Otherwise, you may wake up the next day and find that your dog has been locked up in the county jail and your mayor has four legs, whiskers and a tail.
A previous version of this column appeared on Inc.com.