Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | August 3, 2010

Two keys to vibrant democracy

I Voted... Early from the Flickr photostream of randomcuriosity

“I don’t know a lot about politics, but I can recognize a good party man when I see one.” ~ Mae West

It’s always scary to hold an event that doesn’t require RSVPs — as the host, you wonder if anyone will come. That’s why it was gratifying to watch the audience seats fill at the Prospective Candidates Forum held recently at the Morgan Hill Library. Eventually, approximately three dozen people from all over South County gathered to listen to a panel of experts help them understand what’s involved in running for elected office and serving as an elected official.

Our impressive panel — Irma Torrez, Morgan Hill City Clerk, Karen Anderson, former Saratoga mayor, Del Foster, former MHUSD Trustee, Jay Baksa, former Gilroy City Administrator, Kathy Sullivan, current MHUSD Trustee, and Greg Sellers, current Morgan Hill City Council member — did a great job of helping audience members set realistic expectations about running and serving. The event was ably moderated by David Cohen, one of my cohorts on the Morgan Hill Times editorial board. Many thanks to all of them, and to the event’s sponsors, Friends of the Morgan Hill Library, Leadership Morgan Hill, and the Morgan Hill Times, for helping to make the event a success.

During the Q&A session, prospective candidates — who were running for Gilroy City Council, Gavilan Community College Board of Trustees, and Morgan Hill Unified School District School Board — asked questions about how to avoid pitfalls during campaigning like villifying the people you’re running against with whom you might be serving after the election. They also wanted advice on how to learn what community members, especially those who can’t attend meetings, are really thinking about important issues and how to convince friends to run for office.

If you were unable to attend the forum, you can watch a videotape of the event online. Thanks to Marty Cheek of MHAT for videotaping the event.

If you’re considering running for elected office this fall, the deadline to file the requisite paperwork is Friday, Aug. 6. For any seats where the incumbent does not file, that deadline is extended to Wednesday, Aug. 11.

The goal of the Prospective Candidates Forum was to help ensure that South County voters have at least two quality candidates for every seat on this November’s ballot. When seats are contested by two good candidates, those candidates have to discuss the issues, justify their positions and work hard to meet and sway voters. When candidates run unopposed, none of that has to happen, and usually doesn’t. Democracy is best served when races are vigorously contested.

A look at the July 29 edition of the county registrar’s Unofficial Candidate List shows we still have some work to do to make sure that we have no unopposed races. If you’ve got the passion and the commitment to serve in local elected office, time is running out to get your name on the ballot.

But getting qualified candidates to run for office is only the first step in creating a vibrant democracy.

“The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.” ~  John F. Kennedy

The next steps are the responsibility of voters: Pay attention to the races, register and vote.

You must register no later than 15 days before an election. For the Nov. 2 general election, Oct. 18 is the last day to register to vote.

Next week we’ll know who the candidates for the November election will be. During the next few months, get to know where candidates for your local offices stand. Although state and federal races garner the most cash and attention, the decisions made by your local elected officials are the ones that most affect your daily life.

It’s your local school board that decides where to make cuts in this climate of ever-shrinking budgets: Which schools should be closed? Should the number of students per class be increased? Should the district reduce class offerings?

Likewise, it’s your local city council that makes similar tough choices that you see every day in your town: Should park maintenance be reduced? Should road work be delayed or street lights extinguished? Should recreation services be cut?

As we move closer to November, it will be hard to miss the splashy ads from well-funded candidates running for state and federal offices. Don’t let them drown out information about your choices for local offices or crowd out time to carefully consider those important decisions.

“Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a president and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.” ~  Franklin D. Roosevelt

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