A View From the Cheap Seats

April 8, 2009

Election Follies

Filed under: Politics — trzupek @ 8:54 pm


By Rich Trzupek

Is there anything more fun than a local election? I think not.

Actually, I suspect that people are absolutely sick of campaign season, and it’s hard to blame them. We just got through one of the most acrimonious Presidential races in history and then we get hit with the local races. It’s like getting whacked on the head in the middle of your hangover.

Many people simply ignore the local races, which is kind of a shame. As a practical matter, the people running a municipality, park district, fire district, etc. have much more influence on our day to day lives than those jokers in Washington.

Of those that do vote, it always remarkable to learn how many people – though certainly not all, or even a majority I think – are completely ignorant of the way that local government actually works.

There are people out there who don’t understand the difference between municipal government, be it a village or city, and a park district, a fire district and a library district. They all meld into one in some voter’s minds, which begs the question: just what do they think they think they’re voting for when they cast a vote for a park board seat?

Some candidates feed this impression of course, by offering high-minded but meaningless platitudes like “I’m going to work with the school district to improve our schools”. Really? Unless you’re running for the school board, how exactly are you going to do that Mr. Candidate? Are you going to change the curriculum? Are you going to hire teachers, or alter their qualification requirements? What?

Yes, yes – there are some things a municipality can do to help out the schools. Towns can improve security, manage traffic and provide encouragement to students. But, for the most part, this is all being done by most every city and village already. The overwhelming bulk of the responsibility to educate our kids, and to do it cost-effectively, lies with the school district and its board. Pretending that one can somehow influence the educational system, when one is no position to do so, is not only disingenuous, it’s counter productive, for it diverts attention from those who are actually responsible.

And then there are those voters who lump every elected official together, no matter what the office, into a stew labeled “professional politician”.

Make no mistake, you’d have to search for a long time to find someone more contemptuous of actual professional politicians than this reporter. When Madison, Franklin and the rest designed this system of government, they pictured a nation run by representatives who were truly representative. That is, elected officials were supposed to be plucked from the ranks of the everyman, who did served in what was essentially a pain-in-the-rear position out of a sense of public duty.

They did not envision a nation ruled by people who would make a career out of the job, who would quickly fall into a rock star mentality and employee publicists and spin-doctors to ensure that they maintained their employment courtesy of the taxpayer’s dime.

But local government is none of that, which is why – for the most part – local government usually works better than the bloated federal variety. Local government is run by ordinary working men and women who live in their communities and whom (assuming they are honest) do not profit from their positions.

Not everyone gets that. One resident famously insisted that a local Village President made $100,000 per year. Seriously. I don’t think there is one Village President in Examinerland who makes even $10,000 per year. What Mayor Don DeWitte makes in St. Charles, if you count the cabinet trade, is a matter of speculation, but I digress.

The point here, assuming I had one (which would be something of a first) is that local politics has almost nothing to do with big time politics, although the smaller the stakes, the more enflamed the passions. It’s more akin to electing your student council president in junior high that it is to a Presidential campaign.

When you vote in these local elections, whomever you’re voting for, you’re truly voting for a neighbor, someone who is part the community and will continue to be (or should continue to be) after the voters make their decisions. That’s a good thing, and a hell of a lot better example of representative government than electing someone to fly off to Washington, giving them a huge salary and expense account, and expecting them to be in touch with the people.


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