Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | July 16, 2012

Unopposed races are bad for democracy

“It’s really important who’s mayor and who’s on the city council, county commissioners, sheriffs, district attorney, and of course the school board.” ~Musician and politician Jello Biafra

Have you ever heard about a city council or school board decision and wondered, “What were they thinking?!”

Why not try to find out for yourself? Run for office. Opportunities to serve in an elected office abound right here in South County, and the time to throw your hat into the ring is right now.

In Morgan Hill, the Morgan Hill Unified School District board has seven seats; the seats currently held by Peter Mandel, Kathy Sullivan, and Bob Benevento will be on the Nov. 6, 2012 ballot. The Morgan Hill City Council has five seats; the council seats currently held by Larry Carr and Marilyn Librers will be on the November ballot. The mayor’s seat, currently held by Steve Tate, will also be on the ballot (the mayor serves two-year terms in Morgan Hill).

In Gilroy, the Gilroy Unified School District board has seven seats; the seats currently held by Rhoda Bress, Mark Good, Patricia Mitgaard, and Fred Tovar will be on the November ballot. The Gilroy City Council has seven seats; the council seats currently held by Cat Tucker, Perry Woodward, and Bob Dillon will be on the November ballot. The mayor’s seat, currently held by Al Pinheiro, will also be on the ballot.

The nomination period – the time frame during which you can pull, complete, and return papers to file to run for office – for the November elections opened yesterday. You have until Aug. 10 to return those papers. That’s extended to Aug. 15 if the incumbent for an office does not pull and return papers during the original nomination period.

In order to run, you must be at least 18 years old, a citizen of California and the United States, a registered voter, and a resident of the district for which you’re seeking office.

Why should you consider running for a school board or city council seat?

As former US Interior Secretary Franklin Knight Lane said, “A public office is not a job, it is an opportunity to do something for the public.”

Serving on your local school board or city council is a chance to improve and give back to your community. Moreover, if you’re thinking of a career in politics, service on local boards or councils is a great training ground for the art of compromise, for the intricacies of the legislative process, and a way to understand the needs of your community before you attempt to represent your neighbors in county, state, or federal elective office.

But those benefits assume that you win your race. I believe that you do your community an important service just by running for local elective office, whether you win or lose. That’s because when candidates run for office unopposed, they don’t have to debate issues, spend time with voters to learn what concerns them, be responsive to the local media, or make much of an effort at all to earn the privilege of representing their fellow community members.

But as soon as there’s more than one candidate running for an office, all of that changes. When a race is contested, suddenly candidates have to meet as many voters as possible, engage in public debates, answer reporters’ questions, work hard to understand what voters want in order to earn their trust and votes.

So, if you have the time, energy, interest, and skills to serve as a school board trustee, city council member, or mayor, please give serious consideration to pulling, completing, and filing nomination papers. Detailed information about running for elected office in Santa Clara County is available on the registrar’s web site. Click the Candidate & Measure Information link on the left, then choose November 6, 2012 Candidate & Measure Information from the menu.

Win or lose, you’ll help your community by ensuring that every race is competitive and that no candidate has a cakewalk to public office.

“Competition at the polls makes politicians more responsive to the citizens.” ~ Scott Bradshaw

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