Changing election mindset might start at local level
Thursday, September 04, 2014 10:00 AM
We already touched on this topic recently, but now with the filing deadline really and truly over for a number of upcoming local races, we cannot help but point out yet again the dearth of candidates seeking public office.
From city council seats to school board posts, many in our community are automatically heading back into office come Election Day 2014. That in and of itself is not a commentary on the incumbents. Rather, it is an indictment of those who routinely complain about what those in elected offices do. Or don’t do. Rest assured, the incumbents do not mind one bit that they face no opposition. They can claim it as proof they are doing a good job, certainly, but more important it makes the election process -- re-election process, that is --- far easier and much less costly.
Elsewhere on the political horizon we see news reports that might shed light on the situation. In some cases, there might be a legitimate reason some who complain do not bother to run. One such story came out of Washington this week. The front-page headline read “Surly 2014 electorate poised to ‘keep the bums in’.”
The story essentially tells us that despite enormously low approval ratings among voters, the vast majority of incumbents in Congress are going to be reinstated. Rather easily. And what helps assure their re-election? Hefty campaign treasure chests. While it is true having the ability to outspend an opponent does not guarantee victory, it’s a generally accepted truism. And incumbents often do have a knack for amassing campaign dollars. While that’s more a focus on the national elections picture and not the local, it stands to reason that the mindset has trickled down from the national to the local level. Simply put: Incumbents are hard to defeat.
Really, there seems to be a bit of a circle to it all. People are cynical. They figure the incumbents are shoo-ins, so why even bother voting? And those who would consider running against an incumbent often pull back for similar reasons. They see the incumbent as having the upper hand, financially and by virtue of already being in office. That, despite whatever polls might reflect.
So, what is there to make of all this, at least with respect to the more homegrown, grassroots elections? Again, it seems some of the sentiment expressed about national offices trickles down to the local level. There might not be as much spending necessary -- at least not for mayoral, city and county council, and school board seats -- but spending is nonetheless necessary. Put that up against the notion -- perceived or real -- that the incumbent likely will prevail and it is easier to understand why, in many cases, otherwise viable and potentially good candidates do not offer themselves up for consideration by the electorate.
Is there a solution? Hard to say, but perhaps if things can trickle down they also can trickle up. Naturally, that implies more effort. But consider how the trend might be reversed if people would first and foremost take more interest in, participate in and even toss themselves into the local political process. Maybe if more people sought office, worked hard to get elected and -- gasp! -- voted in local elections the national political landscape could begin to change, too.
Whether that is true is anyone’s guess, but one thing remains true. If you don’t like what you see and are not willing to create change either by running for office or voting, you need not complain so much.