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It's election time again
Jack Balshaw 10/23/2002

Finally, after all these weeks, months or even years of watching government in action (or is that inaction?), we get a chance to have our view noticed. The "special interests" and the big donors may get the red carpet treatment from the politicians all the rest of the time, but on election day it's "the voters" that have the final say. So let's say something.

This is the time we evaluate our elected officials' actions relative to those actions compatibility with our personal interests. On the interest of merit unfortunately, we heavily weigh our opinions not on what they've accomplished but on what they haven't done or have done poorly. This may be unfair, but like negative campaigning, human nature seems to respond to criticism more than it does to praise.

There may be some validity to this negative posture in that the positive things our elected officials have done (in our personal view) were in reaction to what they thought we, the voters, wanted. So their actions were merely a reaction to our, the voter's, demands and not a real expression of leadership. Elected officials can't win. They don't get much credit for what they do right and only criticism for what they either do wrong or don't do at all.

Probably the best, straight to the point national question was one from the first Reagan campaign, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" At the state and local level perhaps the question should be, "Are you happier with your governing body than you were 2 or 4 years ago?"

Our local races here in Petaluma provide for two different analyses. On the one hand the sparcity of challengers would seem to indicate there isn't much unrest among the citizenry. Usually, when the city management is in turmoil, numerous challengers make themselves available as replacements for what they see as non-representative government. This time there is only one challenger for each open seat.

On the other hand, the ideological position of each challenger is directly opposite that of a matching incumbent. It's almost as if the offer being put to the public is the opportunity to reverse political positions on the council. Unfortunately, as the four challengers are split evenly ideologically, the net result wouldn't change.

It's difficult to make a voting decision based on what each candidate presents in his or her mailer. The incumbents brag about what they've done and the challengers talk about what they will do. But there are two little clues in these mailers you might want to notice.

The first applies only to incumbents. Do they take all the credit for the good things that have been done or do they acknowledge that it takes teamwork? Statements of "I did this and I did that" ignore the necessity of rounding up three more votes on the council to get anything passed. I'd look at this as an indicator of a tendency to either go it alone or being willing to work with others to achieve consensus solutions.

The other clue is to notice which organization endorsements the candidate is proud to list. The candidate is stating his or her position will be to further the interest of his endorsees.

I have a personal problem with organizational endorsements in that, at the city level, I want my elected officials to represent me and not some organization with its own interest to project. Too many of this city's recent conflicts have been because some council members seem more ready to push some outside organization's interests rather than do what's best for all the citizens of the city.

All campaign literature paints a noble picture of the candidate. The best a voter can do is try to determine which candidates would help form a reasonable, workable, effective City Council and vote for those candidates.


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