Why Local Politics Matter When You Relocate

Right now there's a lot of talk about Arizona's recent immigration laws – as well as additional laws and policies following it.  To summarize as easy as I can:

  • The governor signed a bill that extended police power to detain/question people over citizenship with reasonable suspicion.  The interpretation of this – and some potential modifications – make it more complicated.  The law is quite controversial as it seems to invite profiling (though people I know in Arizona says it's less change than people may think).
  • A bill that would limit ethnic studies (and oddly lump it in with other things)
  • An education department policy on teachers with accents that could lead to teachers being fired or limited in teaching.  I find this ridiculous as I live in an area with tons of accents.

Yes, if you read about these laws, you'd get the impression that there's some racial and ethnic animosity here.  I sadly come to the same conclusion, am sure that this is going to be a giant political powderkeg, and that there will be much fallout in the future. 

But ask yourself this (before I turn this into a Frustration Friday), would you have heard of this if it wasn't national news?  I don't think you would.

Now you're probably writing Arizona off of your relocation list (I have one friend that already has), but if you're thinking of moving elsewhere what other policies, laws, practices, and politics could affect your choices?  How would you hear about them?

One of the difficulties of relocating can be that many local issues are so local you won't know about them unless you live there or deliberately do research.  Before I moved to California I had some grasp of local politics, but really missed a lot of the specifics, especially some of the regional rivalries and rivalries on different levels of government.  Some of this I had to learn myself – but I could have learned more if I'd bothered to ask the people I knew here.

This probably wouldn't have affected my decision to move to California – but you can rest assured I learned my lesson that if I have to relocate again, or if I am helping someone with research on a locale, I recommend a look at local politics.  There's a very good chance you'll miss some important things unless you do some research.

To make matters worse, I find that its very easy to fall prey to stereotypes and shallow news reporting about different cities and regions.  When I relocated last, I traveled to many places for job interviews and did a lot of research.  I had a lot of stereotypes destroyed by my experiences.

  • New Jersey is usually portrayed as, well, a mess.  Yet there are also some highly rated places to live that are some of the best in the nation.
  • California is often portrayed as being a simple state of high-tech gay hippies angry at immigrants or something.  It helps to remember California is basically a small country, with very complex politics.  Take it from a guy that moved from the Midwest to here – your stereotypes are probably wrong.
  • Seattle is known for two things: rain and technology.  But it has gorgeous scenery, natural beauty, and its own cuisine.  Imagine being able to work in a computer lab then easily go camping.
  • The East Coast and parts of New England have a lot of technology companies – but this often gets eclipsed as people talk about Silicon Valley. Local politics there is incredibly complex, having evolved over literal centuries.

So if you're going to relocate, you're going to want to know the local area well to make sure it's the right decision.  Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Find someone or someones you know that live there and ask them any questions you can think of.  Let them know you're relocating and be open to advice.
  2. Visit the area – if you do it right, you can do it during a job interview.  Spend an extra day if you can, and ask your potential employer or client for relocation advice.  I actually decided to drive through Boston during rush hour when I had an interview to see what it was like (surprisingly not as bad as I thought)
  3. Find a source of local news and read up on what's going on in the area you're considering.  It you're pondering several areas, set up a news feed of one local newspaper per area and check the main stories daily.
  4. Get a relocation guide for the area and read it.  I made it a policy when flying to an interview in another state to read my relocation guide on the plane or the day before so I had a handle on the city and had the information fresh in mind.
  5. Look at web resources, such as Money's Best Places to Live, and City-Data.

Follow these steps and you can make sure you'll be up on local issues that could affect your relocation choice.  This way you're up on what's going on

– Steven Savage