To Be A Candidate 030310
This year a number of local and semi-local people have "thrown their hat in the ring" to run for office. We note the term "throw your hat in the ring" is a boxing metaphor used by Teddy Roosevelt to indicate the kind of contest politics is.
Some of the contests are for positions that are not only thankless, they are unpaid as well. Though the supervisors could draw a nice little salary, they don’t, they work for free. It’s hard work, too, with a lot of travel. You have to be a little nuts to want to be supervisor, which is OK because some of the candidates are well qualified on that score.
Other positions are jobs. The sheriff and particularly the judgeship are plums. Not only do they pay well, they give one a nice patina of social rank. The candidates for those positions are job applicants we need to screen carefully.
Famous losers: Wendell Wilkie
Some positions are incumbents running uncontested, which is a relief to many because they’re being well filled right now, and we don’t have to worry about them. Some incumbents are facing challenges, and in such a small community, the challengers are well-known, sometimes even friends or co-workers. That can’t be fun.
Famous losers: Thomas Dewey
Let’s stop and consider how it must be to be a candidate for public office.
For starters, politicians are not trusted or well liked by the majority of Americans. Local office holders have the added disadvantage that every elbow-bender at every bar thinks they could do as well or better. That urge to govern isn’t visible during the campaign season, but it flourishes thereafter, and such critics are always well informed by what they mis-remember about what they misunderstood of the sketchy information in the local paper a few weeks back. Generally they only bitch behind the office holder’s back or write a garbled letter to the editor, but sometimes the local citizen-officeholder has the misfortune to go to the post office on a Saturday afternoon and suddenly they’re on the clock.
This effect is doubled for the candidate, who has to be on at every encounter with a possible voter. They can be challenged on nearly any viewpoint, and sometimes the challenger doesn’t give a clue to what the right answer would be. Where do you stand on family values? What the hell are family values? Does it mean you support all families, even mixed-raced same-gender couples with a lot of kids, or does it mean you support families in the narrowest meaning of the concept and are expected to demonize m-r/s-g couples? Where do you stand on gun control, birth control for minors, prayer in schools, pot, three-strikes, health care, the war in Iraq, the dump, the local economy, the cogen plant, Tim Beals, the Forest Service, the choo-choo train, the Loyalton City Pool.
It can’t be pleasant, particularly if you guess wrong and give the wrong answer, which you’ll be likely to do. Most likely, none of these things really have much to do with the job at hand.
Famous Losers: the smartest man never to be president, Adlai Stevenson
The next big problem is that the country and the state have gone to hell. The primary purpose of local government now is to act as the lackey for the state, who in turn configures its demands based on federal funding and requirements. The local politician is far less a servant of the people than a servant of the state. The state finally came clean about judges and simply stole them from the counties. The county supervisor candidate today can really only hope to promise to lessen the effects of the larger world. Anyone who believes they can step forward and suddenly, from the supervisor’s chambers in Downieville, solve all, or many, or even any of our serious problems can really only be either a liar or badly ignorant. This is the time for damage control. The body of the nation is suffering from a terrible heart attack cause by decades of bloat and excess. It’s walking around because it’s being artificially supported by medication in the form of "stimulus money", but its main problem, greed at the executive levels of our nation’s financial corporations, continues unabated. It’s a global problem, and when the U.S. comes out of it, the recovery will be slow, and we’ll remember fondly the abundance of the latter half of the 20th Century, but not see its like again.
Likewise, the environmental reality is out of its cage and it isn’t going to go back, unless the population of earth suddenly drops to thirty percent of what it is now. It could actually do that, but if it does, the idea of government will be strained at best.
Instead, the candidate for supervisor, for example, has to deal with concepts that are well accepted by the state and federal departments that over-see them, but are poorly understood or accepted at the level of our communities. Very often the laws they create are a poor fit for our little county, and place an undue hardship on local people. The requirements are often expensive to meet, and local government has to scramble to comply the best it can, sometimes through contracts with better off neighbor counties.
Mega-losers: Gray Davis, who won and THEN lost; Al Gore, who won but didn’t have the studs to take the office.
The idea that anyone from local government can change state and national trends is simply crap. What the candidates should be proving is their ability to work and play well with others. More than ever, we can only survive by working together, the challenges from outside are too real and too daunting to waste time fighting among ourselves. We need elected officials who can network and get us better services, better drug-courts and other interventions, better joint-agreements for professional services with other counties, better training and hotter computers for our key departments, including law enforcement and our fiscal departments.
Indeed, we shouldn’t vote for any supervisor who believes we are at odds with our county workers. We need qualified, satisfied county workers, and we need to appreciate those we have. These people are cousins, and most of them do what they do not just for the paycheck, but because they care about the county. Maybe no one should be elected supervisor who hasn’t spent part of a day in every office, and seen the workload on every desk. The idea that we can cheat our county employees in order to compensate for the end of society as we know it is short sighted in the extreme.
Finally, what about the candidate, as a person. Nothing about their lives is out of bounds, even things that have nothing to do with their performance on the job. Everything they say can be taken up and distorted by the press for the entertainment of the readers (you’re welcome). They have to be graceful under fire, and a perfect memory (unless they tell the truth) and tolerate any irritating loudmouth that comes along.
Whatever the office, let’s remember how hard it is to be a candidate, and how important the jobs they are seeking are, and take the time to listen to them.