Steve A. Stone
Dear Friends and Patriots,
“I’m running because my friends keep telling me I ought to.”
Have you ever heard a candidate for a political office make such a statement? I did, and it almost floored me. It was at a candidate forum where he was facing a crowd of voters, attempting to sway them to his cause. I couldn’t believe a supposedly intelligent person, a practicing attorney with 25 years of experience, could utter something so totally inane. But that candidate did – and more than once. I saw him a couple of weeks later at a Republican Party meeting where he gave his campaign speech again. I found it hard to believe he repeated the same statement, but he did. I thought it was moronic. Surely he had someone working for him who could advise him on just how dumb he sounded.
The candidate in question has a good pedigree. His father was a retired judge in my county. It seemed as if people had convinced him he should emulate his father and become a judge, too. I admit it – I questioned the guy’s intellect. He had to have more political savvy than to make such statements, unless there was a fix in on the race he was in. As it turned out, there wasn’t. But he still did amazingly well and made it to a runoff with another candidate. He lost in that runoff election, but how and why did he get that far? It had to be name recognition and running on the coattails of his dad. Those are the only factors I can conceive that would account for his vote totals.
In this instance, the runoff election went the way I’d hoped. The right candidate won and assumed his office. The guy I’m discussing – he’s a judge now, too. His court is just down the hall from the one he was running for. How’d that happen?
My state elected a new governor in that same election cycle. The new governor appointed one of the judges in my district to a plum job in the state capital. A vacancy was created on the bench and the governor was able to use her authority to appoint a successor to the bench. Yes, the failed candidate who was only running because his friends kept telling him to was the one appointed. He was rejected by the people, yet he ended up right where he wanted to be; where his friends told him he should be. Do you have friends like that? I know I don’t.
All the above happened a few short years ago. I’m still irritated and a bit amazed by it. The whole thing illustrates to me what’s wrong in American politics: That a candidate could get in a runoff for a judgeship without articulating any vision or compelling rationale for running for office is a stunning admission that the electorate does not pay attention. The guy has a good pedigree. His father was known as a good judge and was well-respected in the community. He has relatives who are likewise respected and successful people. But the new judge? He had been coasting for years, and many people close to him knew it. His reason for running was a blatant declaration of his belief in his entitlement. He thought the people should elect him because...he wanted the office. And besides, all his friends said he should be a judge. The people ultimately picked a candidate who did articulate a vision and a compelling rationale, but in the end, the “entitled” man got the job he wanted and is now on the bench. His name, his family, and his political connections were all strong enough to make that happen for him. It’s not how things are supposed to be, but it is how things really are.
I don’t demand a whole lot of candidates before a primary election, but I do think they should at least offer the people some kind of common-sense reason for their campaigns. If they can’t offer anything of substance, it’s up to us, the voters, to demand they give us any reason at all to vote for them. If we don’t make that demand, the fault is ours. If we vote for anyone who can’t give us a reasonable rationale for doing so, it’s we who are the guilty for being dumber than the candidate. Would you vote for your best friend for an elected office just because they’re your best friend? I hope the answer is “No!” But, it happens.
For decades I’ve heard complaints of voter apathy. Voter apathy is apparent by the low turnout in elections – especially in primaries and local elections. That kind of apathy is readily apparent, and can be viewed as a problem. It’s often not an actual problem (someday I’ll explain that), but I do understand at some point it’s a sign of an unhealthy and politically unmotivated society. But, there’s another kind of apathy that’s even worse. That apathy is apparent in the case I just presented. The hallmark of that apathy is voter ignorance. It’s a danger whenever a voter has enough sense of civic responsibility, pride, or whatever motivation to come out on Election Day to vote, yet has no real idea of whom or what they’re voting for. I find myself wondering if the people who voted in that year’s primary had known the candidate above was only running because “my friends keep telling me I ought to,” would they have voted for him? I hope that answer is “No,” but it really doesn’t matter. Facts matter and the facts tell me the voters either didn’t know or didn’t care. I’ll allow myself a moment of optimism for once and will consider that the vast majority of voters didn’t know. That should lead us to ask, “Why not?” It seems fairly obvious that voters only gave a cursory look at the candidates and didn’t study the five minutes per candidate it would have taken to understand why they were asking for votes. That, my friends, is the worst kind of apathy. It means our elections are either often or usually determined by motivated, but willfully ignorant, voters. You can decide which it is – often...or usually?
Shift your attention a few degrees now and consider that we have primaries, runoffs, and general elections. Which of those do you believe are the most important? The majority of you might say it’s the general. After all, isn’t that where the ultimate office holders are chosen? Yes, it is, but I’m asking you to think the whole process through. How did those candidates get there instead of someone else? They’re there because they survived the down-selection process entailed by primaries and, sometimes, by runoffs.
I’m making a broad suggestion to all of you. I suggest the most important elections to participate in are the primaries. That is where you get to decide who will be your ultimate champion for the other side to do battle with. If we go forward with a weak champion – even if they prevail – we just put a weak performer in office. Winning alone should never be our objective! If we truly want better governance, we must concentrate on the earliest parts of the political process to ensure we select the best candidates each and every time, then work hard to ensure they’re also the strongest and that they prevail.
America today is often characterized as being in a weakened and dangerous place. Many believe our political system is so corrupted it can’t be salvaged. Think about that a bit and decide if you can make any difference. What if you were the one person who was motivated enough to ask a candidate for office the hard questions that might make a difference in the final outcome of a race for office? Wouldn’t that at least be a sign to everyone that you’re not a member of the problem class – those apathetic voters who are motivated, but willfully ignorant? Might that encourage others to speak up and ask more hard questions? Don’t you think anyone who stands before you begging for your vote should answer those hard questions?
My friends, my fellow patriots – this isn’t that difficult. But we all need to recognize our roles in the process and play our part fully. We can and should always strive to make a difference. Our example could motivate others to pay attention and learn that simply showing up to vote is not a true sign of a good citizen. Caring enough to insist on only the best candidates in every instance – that’s the sign of a good citizen.
Steve© Steve A. Stone
The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.