Voters must decide which candidates best represent them

Posted: Sunday, July 07, 2002

Last week's Division of Elections ruling that Sen. Jerry Ward is a Nikiski resident and, therefore, eligible to run for the new Senate District Q seat is not likely to squelch the question: Does Sen. Ward really live in Nikiski?

But it does put the burden for deciding which candidate best represents the public squarely where it belongs: on the shoulders of voters.

Those who are tempted to continue to make residency an issue in the campaign should think again.

The Division of Elections has ruled that Sen. Ward has met the letter of the law for residency. Key to the decision was the senator's voter registration. It doesn't matter that Ward continues to do business in Anchorage and owns a home there. He is registered to vote at his Nikiski address, cast ballots at the Nikiski 1 Precinct last fall and has declared under oath that he lives in Nikiski.

If kept alive, the residency issue will muddy the waters of the debate and take voters' attention away from far more important issues, including the state's financial situation.

Not only in the District Q race, but in all the state races, voters need to know what candidates plan to do to help bridge the state's fiscal gap. They also need to know what options the candidates oppose.

Voters should compare those answers with their own.

Voters need to listen carefully to the answers they receive. Are candidates just telling voters what they want to hear? Or, do they have with specific solutions backed up with a sound plan to make them happen?

Voters also need to know how accessible candidates are. Will the candidate seeking your vote this summer remember you when the legislative session convenes in January?

Since voters are in essence "hiring" candidates to do a job for them in Juneau, it's fair to look for some of the same kinds of things employers look for when they're hiring new employees, including:

Past performance. The past is always a good indicator of future performance. Does the candidate's record contradict or confirm what he or she is saying? How well does that record match voters' goals for Alaska?

Skills and abilities. Does a candidate demonstrate the skills and abilities you think necessary for a legislator -- or other elected official? For example, high on our list is the ability to work with others. Is a candidate able to put his or her ego aside to accomplish what is necessary for the good of all Alaskans or does he or she seem more intent on grabbing headlines and being known for pithy quotes?

Character. In politics, one measure of character might be how much (or how little) a candidate engages in the blame game. Does a candidate blame the ills of the state on others or does he or she focus on specific actions that should be taken to reverse the negative trends? What matters is not what other people should have done but didn't or should not have done but did. Instead, what counts is what one plans to do to make things better.

In the hiring process, lots of weight often is given to personal interviews. Unfortunately, a personal interview can be akin to a beauty pageant -- with nicely dressed, smooth-talking candidates often getting the nod over those with more ability and a stronger work ethic.

That's why it's important to have more than one way to judge potential employees -- or elected officials. An interview should be just one part of the process. When it comes to choosing our elected leaders, what they say is only one part of what we should consider. What they don't say may be every bit as important. And how they say it may provide yet other clues as to how well they will really represent us. A candidate's record is important, as is his or her vision for Alaska. A candidate's ability to accept responsibility and refrain from partisan politics also is a good indicator of Juneau potential.

The election season is shifting into high gear. In fact, candidates for lieutenant governor are scheduled to speak at the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce noon luncheon on Tuesday. Before we know it, the Aug. 27 primary will have arrived and we'll be making choices critical to Alaska's future.

With disgust over the recent legislative session still fresh, new election districts to learn, new candidates to listen to, the temptation may be to dismiss the upcoming election season as too much work. That would be a big mistake. Alaska voters have lots of positions to fill in the November general election. The better they do their job at the polls, the happier they will be when those people they elect start making decisions to shape Alaska's future.

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