We are entering one of the most exciting seasons of any year in the newspaper business: election season.
Elections, too often, are popularity contests. The candidate who seems the friendliest in TV ads gets your vote, even if you feel like you have to hold your nose to vote for either candidate. In local races, it’s often a case of who you know, or who your mama and daddy know that leads us to vote in one direction of another.
But here’s a novel idea. Elections ought to be about issues. Even in local races. Especially in local races. Candidates ought to be thoughtful and studious about the issues that face their town or city. They ought to consider all the ramifications – both good and bad – of any decision they would make if elected. And voters ought to press candidates to show them how thoughtful they’ve been about issues that matter to them.
It probably comes as no surprise, but pocketbook issues most often weigh heaviest on the minds of most voters. If a candidate wants to pursue an expensive project, he or she better be prepared to explain how it will be paid for. And if tax hikes are necessary to pay for something, the candidates ought to be forthright enough to say so and then work to convince a skeptical taxpayer that the expense is worthwhile.
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Voters should be wary of candidates who promise sweeping changes. I cannot begin to tell you how many candidates have blustered their way into elective office on a wave of promises that changes of epic proportions will come once they are in office, only to have that same candidate become the town’s biggest cheerleader without trying to institute a single change after they are elected. It is disingenuous to say the least.
If this sounds like a sentence written in, oh, say 2006, well let me be the first to agree: Big changes are on the horizon for most Wake County towns. The best elected officials will be those who have the ability to adapt to change and continue making progress toward a town’s goals.
Just consider, for a moment, your own workplace. Chances are there has been a great deal of change in the past five or 10 years. Whether automation has caught up with your company or you’ve seen a company downsize and stretch to do more with less human capital, the pace of change has been staggering.
Now imagine making decisions about your company that will affect several thousand of your fellow co-workers and how the dominos of unintended consequences will fall no matter what decision you reach. That’s something like what our elected leaders face when new boards and councils take their seats come December.
Here’s one other quality voters ought to test during the next couple of months as they consider which candidates will get their vote. The phrase “global economy” has been a buzzword for some time. On a smaller scale, towns in Wake County find themselves more and more needing to work with neighboring towns to accomplish goals that are important to both communities. That doesn’t happen by accident.
Politics is a people business. Good elected leaders know how to build relationships quickly and put them to good use when the need arises. The commissioner or council member who really wants to do nothing more than attend a meeting or two each month at the local town hall is not likely to be an effective advocate for the people he or she represents.
And so voters should press that issue with candidates. When was a time the candidate had to work with a group to accomplish a common goal? How’d that work out? How would a candidate-turned-elected-official make new friends in this new club of elected people? And who would he or she make friends with. After all, if you lay with a dog, you get up with fleas. We don’t want elected officials with fleas.
The Garner-Cleveland Record will be asking some of those same questions in the coming weeks, so please follow along as we try to flesh out the names on this year’s ballot. We’ll be doing this in Garner, too, despite the fact there are no challenges to the incumbents in this year’s race. The issues that surround them don’t change dramatically just because of who is in office.