October 2014

Speak the truth, candidates!

This is the season when newspaper opinion sections are filled with exhortations to the citizens to “get out and vote.” Do your civic duty. Be involved. Take part in the democratic process for which so many people have fought and even died over the years.

That’s all well and good, but there’s another group of people who need to step up and do their part, and an issue rarely broached that is undoubtedly a contributing factor to voter apathy: Candidates don’t say what they truly think.

This is true at the local level every bit as much as it is on a higher level. In fact, local elections can be even more confusing because, at the state or national tiers, there are party affiliations to give voters some clue about how the candidates lean on major issues. In contrast, most candidates in Montezuma County these days are either Republican or unaffiliated, and their platform regarding local issues can be nebulous. Candidates who might not entirely support all of the traditional Republican values sometimes run as Republicans anyway, or call themselves “independent” when in another place they’d come out as Democrats. But other people who identify themselves as unaffiliated truly are such, not marching to either the right-wing or left-wing tune. So seeing an “R” or an “unaffiliated” next to someone’s name on the ballot doesn’t tell the poor voter a heck of a lot.

Of course, in a small county, much of the voting is just a popularity contest, based on whom you know. But if you don’t happen to know the candidates personally, how are you supposed to decide? Ideally, the hopefuls would give you some specific goals they hope to accomplish in office and some specific issues they want to address. Instead, most of the time — in the past, anyway — they have gone out of their way to avoid saying anything concrete because it might hurt their chances of being elected. People tend to talk about their families, their jobs, whatever other board positions they may have held, and how they love it here and want to work for you. When pressed as to what they might actually do in office, they’ll say they want to listen to the citizens and make wise decisions, or some such vague platitudes.

Now, this isn’t true of every candidate by any means, but it is true of many. And thus the voters are left choosing among two (or more) pigs in a poke. (For those of you not familiar with that quaint old term, it means a pig in a sack, something you buy without seeing it.) You vote for someone you think is just dandy and once in office he does something he’d given no hint he might even contemplate. (By the way, if you’re questioning the use of the pronoun “he,” in Montezuma County elections it’s usually the correct one unless you’re talking about the clerk or treasurer.)

So, voters, do your best to become informed before you cast your ballot. Go to a forum, listen to candidates on the radio, read about them in the paper, buttonhole them in person and press them for answers. Then take part in what truly is a noble exercise – choosing our leaders.

And, dear policy-making candidates both current and future, do your part too. Tell us what you’re thinking, what your actual plans are, how you feel on key issues. Speak the truth. If it costs you the election, at least it won’t cost you your character.