We just had a national election last November, but already we are having a local one here in Colorado Springs, on April 4, to decide City Council races and a trio of ballot issues. This got me thinking about elections in general, and how low we have set the bar for qualifications. It is high time we raised it, so here are some topics and qualities to consider when choosing among a field of candidates.
We are at such a shallow threshold for qualified candidates anymore that if the incumbent can simply avoid scandal, he or she is almost guaranteed to retain office. As long as they are not a complete embarrassment, then we seem to be ok with allowing them to carry on. Should we not be at least a little more demanding in what we expect of our government representatives? What have they done for us lately? What are their goals in the short run and the long term?
We might start by screening all candidates with these three assessments, which should render them intolerable if these qualities and tendencies are the least bit apparent:
- They demonstrate no empathy for those less economically fortunate than themselves; or those who are different from them in age, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and related diversity parameters.
- They assume the worst in strangers, without evidence.
- They use or seek financial, political, and social power for self-gain. They make it public that they aspire to higher office down the road.
It is incumbent upon us as voters to dig a little deeper, consult multiple media resources, and get behind the more affluent front-runners to see if there are better candidates who simply do not have the resources to campaign as widely or effectively. We also need to spread the word to friends and family once we find a candidate worthy of our vote. This can be difficult when no one wants to "talk politics." Remind them it is not politics, but governance that is at stake, and we need people in office who are responsive to all of their constituents, not just wealthy campaign donors.
We need people in office who are more like ourselves: working class, middle class (if not even bordering on the poverty line), and of diverse occupational, ethnic, age, gender, and related demographics. Yet, we insist on consistently voting for the most affluent career politicians who have nothing in common with the majority of the people in their districts, and who are most responsive to the industrial and business interests that provide massive amounts of campaign money. This is how we get tainted water in Flint, Michigan. This is how we get dangerous deregulation of natural resource extraction industries. This is how we fail to get clean energy options, affordable healthcare, safe infrastructure, and revitalized local economies.
You should also ponder running for office yourself. It is not for everyone, but everyone should give it thoughtful consideration. We require young men (and women, now?) to register with the Selective Service upon their eighteenth birthday. We should require them to register to vote as well. How ironic that we respect those who have served our country in the military, but have no respect for those who send them off to war. We elected them, and we should not be surprised at the results. Maybe we need to start randomly drafting candidates for offices. It might be an improvement.
In the meantime, we should take voting more seriously, do at least minimal homework instead of reacting viscerally to each contender. Change for the sake of change is rarely as good an idea as it sounds, and sometimes continuity is the better option. Only you can decide that. Once the election is over, then your real work begins. We have been awful at holding our representatives accountable, informing them of our viewpoints, economic needs, and sharing our stories. They only know what is important when we tell them. Am I practicing what I am preaching? Not nearly enough; but we can be each other's elbow in our ribs to remind ourselves this is a participatory democracy; or at least it should be.