January 19, 2020

Local Election Turns Fluffy

In November, registered voters in the city where I live will be deciding who will fill three of the five seats on the city council. There are seven candidates running, and a number of hotly debated issues on the mind of voters.

The City Manager resigned recently, and a decision needs to be made about how that position will be filled. The Council recently voted to approve a controversial redesign of a bus terminal, which will make it, some say, much less safe for both passengers and pedestrians. An extension of an extra sales tax is also on the ballot, reduced from the current rate because some believe the city doesn’t need so much cash any more. Many in my city believe we need more affordable housing, while others assert that our city is providing more affordable housing than any other city in the county, and it’s time for us to step back while the other cities need to step up.

While these may not be topics of national or even statewide importance, they are topics important to the people in my city, and they are debated endlessly on NextDoor, Facebook, and elsewhere. With seven candidates running for a majority-holding three seats on the five-seat Council, and neighbors disagreeing on how certain candidates stand on some of these issues, one would think the candidates would make their position clear on those items the voters find important.

As a result, I was happy to see the first campaign mailer hit my mail box this week. (I am not mentioning the name of the candidate because I don’t want to pick on any one person, since I suspect the mailings from many, if not all, of the candidates will not be much different.) Finally, I would know where one candidate, whose position has been hotly debated by my neighbors on one topic in particular, stands. Or so I thought.

I was disappointed to see that nowhere in this candidate’s tri-fold mailer does he state his position on anything. Instead, it’s all a superficial biography and bunch of fluff. It says he grew up in our city, he went to law school and served in the Navy, he got a job as a COO, and his wife is a local teacher.

In a couple of places, he skirts some large issues, such as his statement that, “I learned how bad politics lead to bad policy,” but he doesn’t give any hint about what the bad politics are, or what the bad policies are, let alone how he would propose they be improved. The closest he comes to revealing his position on anything of substance is when he says he works for a company that promotes clean energy, thereby implying he believes in clean energy and, perhaps, that means he’s an environmentalist.

He says he wants to “give back” and that he embodies “service, dedication, integrity.” Where does he stand on the proposed sales tax? He doesn’t say. What does he think about the new bus terminal design? He gives us no clue. Does he support more affordable housing in the city? There is no way for us to know.

I even went to his website, which contains the following tabs: “<Candidate’s first name>’s Story, My Service, Contact Us, Get a Lawn Sign, Volunteer, Donate!, Endorsements” and, finally, “The Issues.” I clicked on the last tab, and found the following topics: “The Issues, Public Safety, Jobs, Improving Local Infrastructure, Environment.” Under these headings he says things like, “In order to keep well trained law officers, fix our streets, and increase services – we need a strong, stable economy,” and that our police officers are leaving so “We need to fix this,” and we “should continue to focus…on bringing high wage jobs” to the city, and, “I wake up every single day working to fight climate change…”

Setting aside random dashes and how he can wake up fighting for climate change before he even gets out of bed, how does he plan to go about doing any of these things? He doesn’t say. He gives us very few clues. He wants to “reduce red tape,” but what does he consider to be red tape? Why doesn’t he mention any of the issues my neighbors have been talking so much about, namely, affordable housing, the bus terminal, the sales tax, the resignation of the city manager?

I don’t think it’s because the candidate is unaware of these issues. Instead, I believe it’s a trend in politics, which started on the national level, to say as little as possible about any specific topic or plan. Once a candidate admits to a position on anything, it gives some people a reason to vote for him/her, but also others a reason to vote against him/her. But if they stick to “Safety, Jobs, Improving Infrastructure,” with no specific plan to go about those things, then what’s not to like?

It’s a shame this is the way campaigns are run these days, and it’s a disservice to the voter. How are we supposed to know which candidates to support when all they give us is fluff and they refuse to tell us where they stand on the issues? I fear it’s just a matter of time before I see my first, “Make <name of city> Great Again” sign.

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