Want new faces in politics? Then let's see yours

Posted: Sunday, August 19, 2007

The low amount of voters who likely will turn out to participate in the Oct. 2 municipal election (as historically the Kenai Peninsula has had poor voter-turnout numbers) will have an equally low number of candidates to choose from.

The deadline for filing for public office came and went Wednesday, with few people showing a willingness to serve their communities as an elected representative. The borough assembly's three open seats garnered five candidates, with one race uncontested. For the school board, three seats drew four candidates. In the central peninsula cities, the position of Kenai mayor has two candidates, while Kenai's two open council seats have three people running for them. In Soldotna, two open council seats have only the incumbents running for reelection, while the other open seat is the most hotly contested of any race this election with five candidates.

Borough service area board races are the saddest at all. Twenty-one candidates filed to run for 34 open seats, with only one race drawing two candidates. That leaves 14 seats with no candidates, with a seven of them from the controversial South Peninsula Hospital Service Area board.

Serving in public office is a thankless job. Typically that refers to the extra work, scrutiny and stress involved without any reward other than knowing you're doing something good for your community. But apparently that phrase can also be taken to mean "no thanks, I don't want to run for office."

Why is that? The Kenai Peninsula has plenty of civic-minded individuals. Volunteers fill a multitude of roles in vital organizations, like hospice, Rotary clubs, churches, schools, etc. If a sick child needs a fundraiser to pay for medical treatment, people offer donations for raffles or happily shovel down plates of lackluster spaghetti to help. When United Way solicits money to distribute to its member agencies, it consistently meets or exceeds its goal.

Come election day, volunteers won't be lacking to work at the polling locations, yet there are 14 positions up for election that didn't draw a single candidate.

The problem isn't a lack of volunteerism among peninsula residents, so it must have something to do with public office itself. Perhaps it's the commitment of time and energy required. Or maybe it's the cost of running an election campaign (those signs aren't cheap, you know). Or it could be the public scrutiny candidates sign themselves up for. Being a pubic servant means your actions, comments and opinions are everyone's business. Any one of your neighbors from five blocks or five miles away can tell you exactly what they think of your views, whether it's to say they agree with them or to tell you where to stick them.

The Clarion's question to its readers this week is whether they would run for public office. As of Saturday evening, the count was 74 yes and 183 no, or about 70 percent saying they would not run for office. Some responses show dissatisfaction with current politicians, with respondents saying they would run for office because they believe they could do a better job. One person said they would run because they want to be involved in shaping their community.

Other comments were disheartening, like this one:

"Anyone ever heard of skeleton's in the closet? Who wants that much invasive behavior? One thing though we do need to get rid of career politicians. Vote them all out and start with a clean slate every election!"

This attitude get rid of the politicians, but don't expect me to step up and take their place contributes to the lack of names on the ballot more than the prospect of long meetings in uncomfortable chairs does. Why would anyone run for office just to be tossed out for no reason other than having run for office?

There's thankless, and then there's crazy.

If nothing else, this election provides clear proof why term limits are a bad idea in local politics. We can't get enough people to run as it is. If it weren't for incumbents running for reelection there would be even more seats lacking candidates.

That's not to say incumbents deserve to keep their positions simply because they ask voters if they may; but if they're doing a good job and no one else shows an interest in taking over for them, ousting them on some arbitrary time limit is a disservice to them and the entire borough.

It's not enough to gripe about "politics as usual" or to use the term "politician" as an insult. You have to be willing to do something about it.

That means staying informed on issues, voting and taking a turn in the hot seat yourself.

If you want to see new faces among your representatives, you should be willing for one of them to be yours.

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