Next week is the week for candidate forums. If you live in Heyburn or Burley, I hope you go. If you live in Gooding, Wednesday is the night. I hope everyone in Twin Falls makes it standing-room only in the Council chambers next Thursday night. These candidates have the most direct impact of all elected officials on the quality of your daily life. They have our state legislators and members of congress on speed dial. They have influence beyond Twin Falls, but they are the people you can easily access daily.
Because city races are non-partisan, you are much less likely to find professional political maneuvering in play. Individuals who participate in local elections may go on to higher office, and knowing their general approach to problem solving as well as their public demeanor gives you necessary information for those elections.
Politics involves both power and influence, and every individual is concerned with it in families, groups and government. In recent times, politics has become a popular social science. This has led to an impersonal and (I believe), cynical maneuvering when applied to election campaigns. Citizens must remain skeptical of the scheming used to sway public opinion. Watching politics at the closest level possible is one way to avoid being manipulated as a voter.
What do you watch for in selecting an elected politician? I first examine what can be called heart. Another way of talking about it is motive. In this arena, I think there are two kinds of politician. The ones I support are public servants. Their impulse is to make a positive impact on the lives of their fellow citizens. The other kind of politician becomes entrapped by power and the perks of power.
It is not a bad thing for a politician support the proposed action on issues favored by the people who voted. It becomes a problem when facts change or go against the office holder’s core values. If the preferences of a few donors or even some of his supporters are not supportable when considering the common good, a statesman becomes an advocate for another solution. The unacceptable politician’s first thought is, “will this vote help or harm my political career?”
The other thing I look for in a politician is a willingness to engage in the world of public policy. This is not an easy thing, and it becomes more difficult as the scope of the government the politician is working in becomes larger. At our city level, I expect our elected leaders to be up-to-date on city issues. We have a city manager and an able civil service, but the City Council employs the manager. It is important that everyone on the Council be familiar with all aspects of city government.
Most of us have had some experience with meetings run by parliamentary procedure, and have maybe even thought it was unnecessary when running a bowling league, for instance. But that procedure is the foundation of organizing any kind of meeting where decisions are made. Not knowing enough about how meetings are organized leads to citizen frustration when their input seems to be “managed”. A good politician is someone who can engage with individuals and make them feel that their input is considered, if not always adopted.
If we become familiar with the politics we can personally participate in, we can begin to understand national and international politics. We decide which issues are important to us; then vote for a representative to a government body who seems to have good answers to those issues. Political parties do the same thing, then they endorse candidates who represent most people who tell them they are members of the party. They use political tactics to carry out the strategy of being able to carry out the answers they agree on. It is actually a straightforward process but government and all public policy is a complex system made up of other complex systems.
My approach to politics is to consider public policy first. It is what I spend my time between election cycles studying. However, once an election approaches, I look at the candidate and not the party. To the greatest extent possible, I avoid advertising, including web media, and try to get first-person evidence about both their positions and their public demeanor. I urge you to take advantage of the opportunity to know the candidates and issues and then vote as you will.