For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been busy following the election for Chanute City Commissioners, a journalistic endeavor that involved talking to all of the candidates in the Commission primary and managing to stay awake through the whole Candidate Forum. All of this led to me being at the Neosho County Courthouse when the primary results were unveiled.
It was gratifying to play a role in helping the public get engaged in this election. Twenty-two percent of eligible Chanute voters took the time to trek out to a local polling place last Tuesday to vote in the primaries, which doesn’t seem like a very high number. However, there is a sizable group of people in Chanute who do obviously care about what is going to happen to their city. Judging by the number of signs I see around town, e-mails about candidates in my inbox, and conversations I’ve gotten into at various local breakfast nooks and drinking establishments, there is a lot of public interest in how this election is going to ultimately turn out and what effect its results might have on this community’s future.
Still, there is apparently not enough local political interest to impress our state legislators, who have been proposing steps to change the way these local elections are conducted in Kansas. Legislation has already passed the Senate and is being debated in the House that would move local elections from April to November of odd-numbered years.
What is being voted on now is actually a watered-down compromise version of a bill that would have forced candidates in local elections to file as part of an organized political party. This would have been a terrible idea, especially in a region like ours, where only one political party has a chance to actually win anything. I’ve long believed that political candidates should be judged far more on the strength of their character and the merits of their policy ideas than on the name-recognition of any party. Attaching concepts like determining who is a Republican to local elections would only get us further away from that ideal. I am sure the fundraising wing of the Republican Party wasn’t happy about the way this part of the legislation ultimately turned out, but it is a very good thing for voters and candidates of all stripes that it was taken out of the bill.
What’s left of the proposed legislation is flawed because it assumes that voters will care about or study the candidates and issues more in November of odd numbered years than in April. I see no evidence that this would be the case. It seems to me that April is generally a slower and less crazy period in most of our lives than November, where we have holidays to shop for and football to watch.
Republican State Senator Forrest Knox, continuing his long streak of being on the wrong side of most every major legislative issue in this state, wrote in his Chanute Tribune column last week that he would like to see these local elections conducted in November of even numbered years. This would guarantee that these elections would be totally overshadowed by both Presidential races and mid-term elections. It’s difficult enough for voters to determine how they truly feel about Presidential candidates, their Senator, their Congressperson, their governor, and various state legislators. Now, on top of all of this, they would be better off having to study the positions of a bunch of candidates for City Commission and school board races at the same time?
Knox’s contention is that this would increase numerical voter turnout, and it is true that Presidential elections tend to attract a few more voters than other elections. However, bringing more voters to the polls who aren’t knowledgeable about local candidates and issues does not seem like a good plan to make our system or our city better.
As someone who follows and cares about politics in this state, I am glad I can get my electoral fix in April and the local interest in this election shows me that I’m not the only personwho feels that way. We have a very good election going on in our city right now that is promoting healthy political dialogue. Let’s not let our state lawmakers screw that up.
Please send all questions, comments, hate mail, marriage proposals, or invitations to go to Topeka and give our State Legislators a well-earned lecture on how they’re supposed to do their jobs to email@example.com.