Smithfield: Opinion

Where are all the candidates?

When General Assembly Republicans moved the 2016 primaries up to March, Democrats complained that it wouldn’t leave potential candidates enough time to organize campaigns and that, as a result, they would decide against running for election.

And that would leave the state’s two main political parties without candidates in some of the 170 General Assembly districts – and, more important, voters without choices at election time.

As the candidate filing period neared its end, it wasn’t just Democrats scrambling to find candidates to run for the state legislature in Raleigh in the new year. The N.C. Republican Party sent out a mass email with the subject line: “Needed: A Few Good Republicans.” The state party hoped to encourage Republicans to sign up to run in districts that hadn’t attracted GOP candidates as of yet. The filing period ended Dec. 21.

“Needed: A Few Dozen Good Republicans” would have been a more accurate subject line. As of the end of the day Dec. 18, with only half a day Monday remaining in the filing period, 37 of 120 House districts and 10 of 50 Senate districts didn’t have Republican candidates.

The Democrats – under even more pressure to bring candidates out of the woodwork because they are in the minority in both chambers – might have sent out an email with a similar subject line. As of Dec. 18, there was no Democratic candidate in 17 Senate districts and 47 House districts. (Yes, you read that correctly – 47).

Barring a last-minute rush of candidates, hundreds of thousands of N.C. voters face the prospect of finding only one General Assembly candidate on their ballots come November. How’s that for voter choice and democracy?

It’s looking very possible that after the March primaries, two-thirds of the 120 House seats and half of the 50 Senate seats will be decided before a single vote is cast in November.

In my opinion, this is nothing less than a blistering indictment of the two major political parties, our state political system in general and our redistricting process in particular.

And it’s not like all of the legislators who will go unopposed in November are God’s gifts to public service. I’m not going to name names, but a few are so liberal or so conservative that they are all but cast aside by their own parties. Others without opposition to their re-election bids rarely can be heard uttering a word in committee meetings or during floor sessions and might as well not be there. Still others have gotten few, if any, substantive bills passed in the legislature and don’t seem to be doing much to try to change that.

Clearly, something is gravely wrong when a state with roughly 10 million people can’t even field two candidates in every House and Senate district.

Are people so fed up with politics and politicians that they want nothing to do with it? Are the parties so out of touch that they can’t find people to run?

Are legislative sessions too long, keeping lawmakers away from their families and jobs for too much of the year? Is the pay too low?

Do campaigns cost too much? Are many of the districts so gerrymandered in one party’s favor that it’s impossible for a candidate of the other party to win? Should unaffiliated candidates be able to get on the ballot without having to get thousands of signatures?

Is something else keeping potential public servants away with 10-foot poles?

These are all questions that need answers.

And fast. Another election will come and go before we know it.