Election results show voters not as cynical as some might think

Posted: Sunday, October 12, 2003

While voter turnout for last week's municipal election was disappointing, results of the election were refreshing.

Voters continue to debunk two popular, cynical sentiments that surround the public process:

1. Voters will "just say no" to higher taxes.

2. Newcomers to the political scene don't stand a chance against incumbents.

By approving $49.9 million in bonds for the renovation and expansion of Central Peninsula General Hospital, the voters in the hospital service area agreed to tax themselves for a community improvement.

The vote recognizes that the hospital project isn't just about bricks and mortar. It's about improving health care for residents. It's about building on a growing industry. It's about the realization that the central peninsula's population isn't just increasing, but it's increasingly getting older. That aging population will need more health care services than would be generated by population growth alone.

The hospital improvements have the potential to improve the quality of life for all residents, and that's an idea to which the majority of voters could say "yes."

Voters in the eastern peninsula also agreed to tax themselves in order to better help themselves with the creation of the Seward-Bear Creek Flood Service Area. The intent behind the service area is develop a coordinated plan to reduce the risk of damage to both private and public property from flooding.

The creation of the flood service area recognizes that it is far cheaper to try to plan for and prevent flood damage than to try to mop up damage after the fact.

On the other hand, the defeat of Proposition No. 1, which would have created a borough trails service area, showed voters are unwilling to say "yes" to any new tax. While the public supports trails and interest in trails is high, it was not clear what this proposition would accomplish that currently cannot be done.

The message of the three ballot propositions is twofold: One, voters believe the borough is handling their tax dollars well or they would not be willing to pay more regardless of what kind of benefit they may receive. Two, when the benefits of a tax increase are clearly spelled out, voters are much more likely to say "yes" because they can see tangible returns for their money. Voters could see the hospital and flood service area propositions represented a wise investment that could potentially save them money over continuing with the status quo.

On the issue of political novices versus incumbents, voters delivered the message that a newcomer with the desire to work hard and strong qualifications can beat an incumbent.

A lot of knocking on doors paid off for Dan Chay, who defeated incumbent John Davis in the District 1 race for assembly. In his campaign, Chay noted it was not a dissatisfaction with the incumbent that moved him to seek office, but the desire to "step up and take a watch." Our hope is that others will follow his example not because incumbents are doing a bad job, but because government works better when more people take an interest in how it operates.

That's one of the reasons the race for three seats on the Kenai City Council was so exciting. Eight candidates competed for those positions many of them newcomers to the political scene. Kenai residents had a real choice, and what they chose was one incumbent, Pat Porter, and two newcomers, Blaine Gilman and Rick Ross.

There were multiple messages from the Kenai race: Just because a person currently sits on the council doesn't mean that person is the most qualified. On the other hand, all incumbents aren't bums that deserve to be booted out of office. If incumbents are doing their jobs well, voters will return them to office. Most voters are not interested in single-issue politics; in this case, the Kenai Recreation Center. In fact, the outcome of the election could be read as support for the Kenai council and its handling of budget matters that led to the temporary closure of the center.

It's unfortunate that other races didn't draw that kind of interest and multiple candidates. Many incumbents and a few novices were put into office without any competition at all. The jury is still out on why that happens, but we suspect it's a combination of not being uncomfortable with the way things are headed, being a little skeptical that one person can make a difference and being overwhelmed with the daily business of life.

In any case, all those who ran for office, the many people who campaigned on the issues (regardless of what side they took) and those 7,380 voters who made it to the polls, all deserve a round of applause. They are what our system of government is all about.

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