More than one disease is at work on me today!
by Charlie Leck
I've voted. It's always a good feeling. Talk about freedom and how our Republic is supposed to work! This is it, isn't it? Cast your vote or keep your mouth shut. I've always believed that one forfeits one's real right to complain and bitch if one fails to vote.
There were only a few of us waiting for the starting gates to open this morning. We stood around in the hallway of our City Center, bantering and joking with each other even though we were people with big differences of opinion on that particular morning. If a fellow is expressing his political difference of opinion through the ballot box, I'll give him my respect.
I'm baffled, however, by small town elections like this one we just went through in My Town. The campaign is limited to only a couple of communications tools. (1) The local, weekly newspaper runs profiles on the candidates and allows them a certain amount of space to express their opinions on various issues. They also accept letters from residents expressing their opinions about the candidates. (2) The candidates and some residents send out letters trying to convince voters to go one way or the other. It's this second tool that bothers me and I'll rant about it here in just a paragraph or two.
First, however, I'd like to lament the disappearance of the public candidate debate. That's something we used to do out here. The state's League of Women Voters used to help us set them up. They were willing to do that this year, too, but most of the candidates weren't interested. I'll keep urging My Town to reinstate these debates in future years.
I do not lament the passing away of the lawn sign. There were only a handful in use this year around the community and most of those were not really placed on the private lawns of residents, but they were put on highway right-of-way areas where they are technically illegal. The tool is used only to increase name recognition and, of course, they have nothing to do with positions on issues or the qualifications to serve.
The problem with the letters that candidates send out relates mainly to the fact that they arrive on the last few days of the campaign. Sometimes these letters are crammed with half-truths, out and out untruths and, sometimes, with vicious, intentional lies designed to frighten residents into voting against someone rather than for someone. One of our candidates engaged in such distasteful tactics this year and, I am deeply afraid, he may get many, many votes as a result of the tactic. Let me give you some examples.
The candidate in question here wrote about expenditures on a small community park as a cause of increased taxes on our residents. In fact, parks and playground expenditures are separately funded through park dedication fees collected when individual parcels of property are subdivided or developed. This candidate wrote that a million dollar expenditure was planned by My Town on this community park, insinuating that this would unfairly add tax requirements on all of us. First of all, as I just explained, such expenditures would come from park dedication fees that have already been collected. Secondly, in fact, no such expenditure is expected and no such expenditure has been recommended by the Parks Commission or any other Commission or Council in My Town.
When this misstatement, misinformation or lie arrives in a person's mailbox two days before the election, however, how is another candidate or another citizen to respond in time to rebut the claim?
This same candidate slung a slew of other such misinformation in his letter. He was following the standard belief that some of this mud would stick to the wall. He claimed that a million dollar addition was planned for the city center and he asserted that the city planned to hire 5 new employees. It is patently unfair that such falsehoods can't be answered properly before the election takes place.
After we cast our ballot this morning, a few of us chatted about whether or not a charge of unfair campaign practices could stand up against such a candidate. I suppose all he has to do is act dumb and contend that he had "heard" these things. In fact, candidates should be held more accountable for such errors. I think stronger state laws should demand a higher standard from candidates for office and offer criminal penalties for violations.
Sadly, I must now wait through the day to see if these vinegary campaign tactics worked. If they do, it will be a sad day for My Town and for its future. If this guy is elected, I will dedicate the next several years to following every action and every public statement he makes and reporting accurately on them to the entire community.
I visited with the staff in a medical emergency room yesterday. I was completely sapped. It turned out that I've got a touch of pneumonia and they put me on some pretty strong antibiotics and told me to put down lots of liquids and get rest. I'm ill this morning, but I'm not sure it's the pneumonia that's got me down.
NOTE [6 November 2007]: The local election results are in. The mayoral candidate we wanted elected managed to win by a good-sized margin over the fellow we write about above. That's fortunate; however, the City Councilperson we so very much wanted elected was not, losing in a three person race for two seats. The balance on the current council does not look good and I think it spells a major change for this community we have worked so hard to preserve. Our days of living in a rural community will be over in the next few years.