Helping you gain a deeper understanding of local candidates

  • Jim Slusher

    Jim Slusher

 
Updated 2/25/2021 11:22 AM

I feel a constant sense of mystery and appreciation when I consider that so many people are willing, sometimes eager even, to offer themselves for local elected leadership positions. It is one thing to join a crowd of like-minded parents descending on a school board meeting or two to rally for the end or continuation of remote learning or to mass with a group of neighbors to plead with the village board not to allow a new development in your neighborhood -- and activism like this is indeed a good and necessary part of democracy. But it is quite another thing to spend two, three, four or more hours a week listening to the appeals of group after group, taking angry phone calls at home and being accosted at church, on the street or in the coffee shop, knowing you might at best appease some folks and will certainly enrage many others.

All this for no, or at best token, pay.

 

By and large, we should all view the service of local officials with sincere gratitude and respect.

But that said, I have to note a peculiar irony we often see regarding the political activities of some candidates for local positions. Whereas you might expect that unsophisticated campaigns for local office would be more chaste and responsible than the deceptive and manipulative activities we normally associate with high-level partisan politics, quite the opposite is often the case. Local candidates can be just as devious, as secretive, or -- thanks to the popularity of "slates" in supposedly nonpartisan local elections -- as conspiratorial as any campaign for state or federal office.

We hope that the immense effort our editors and writers put into covering local races, providing space for candidates to respond directly to questionnaires and interviewing them in person helps you gain deeper insights into the people offering themselves to serve our communities on school or municipal boards. Mostly, this involves just helping you get to know them better in a positive way, but to some extent it also can help sort through misinformation and obfuscations.

Some candidates, for instance, don't want you to know them. They may be counting on low voter turnout, their name recognition, ballot position or some other factor. They may not want to be pinned down on a position or to demonstrate that they really don't know the details of local issues or even how operating in a collaborative board setting works. Candidates occasionally make it difficult to meet with us in person or refuse altogether. They may answer only selected questions or not return questionnaires at all.

Slates are not inherently bad, but they do sometimes involve one or two committed candidates who persuade others to join them with the expectation that someone of lesser dedication or ability will get elected with them to help pack a board with a voting bloc. Slate members may try to schedule meetings to their advantage, confer with each other when answering questions on our questionnaires or even duplicate entirely each other's questions.

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On the other hand, some candidates, whether independently or as members of a slate, go to extraordinary lengths to share their views and represent themselves candidly. They rearrange their schedules to attend candidate forums and editorial board meetings. They complete questionnaires thoroughly and promptly. They speak and write unequivocally in describing their objectives, their opinions and their understanding of the leadership role they seek to fill.

All these and more are factors you should watch for as you evaluate candidates. They are certainly issues that our editors consider as we develop news coverage and candidate endorsements.

Our coverage is under way now, and I hope you've seen stories about specific candidates and races. We will be publishing candidates' questionnaire responses regularly in print and online throughout the campaign period. On Sunday, we will begin three weeks of publishing our editors' impressions and endorsements based on the research and interviews we are conducting on school board and key municipal board races.

Whether the candidate is a seasoned veteran seeking a high-profile office in the state or national government or one of our friends and neighbors hoping to do his or her part to make our communities and schools better, you should seek lots of information as you decide whom to choose. And you'll find much that can help in the Daily Herald between now and April 6.

• Jim Slusher, jslusher@dailyherald.com, is deputy managing editor for opinion at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jim.slusher1 and on Twitter at ­@­JimSlusher.

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