Make sure candidates talk about local issues

Politicians and pollsters desperately want our votes and to know how we’re leaning on the issues. Two to three times a day, on some days, my telephone rings, I drop what I’m doing to answer, and someone on the other end of my land line asks if I’d like to participate in a scientific survey.

“No thank you,” I say, as they keep talking through my answer. I hear their voice fading as I set the phone back toward its charger and hit the end button.

I try to be somewhat polite, albeit brief. The person calling has, I know, a thankless task. When it’s a computer calling with a recorded voice, however, the end is swift. It’s not politics per se that makes me avoid participating in such surveys. But rather, my fear that any information I cough up might be used by someone of any political party in a misinformation campaign.

Bill Graham

Bill Graham

What most voters want from their candidates is common decency, honesty and fairness. Judging these qualities in a fellow human being seeking office has been the voter’s challenge since George Washington left office. The great irony is that in a time when information is more easily obtained than at any time in prior history, the channels for learning are cluttered with confusion.

Platte County in the 1980s saw relatively mild elections for local and state offices. Candidates were fairly straightforward. They’d pitch their character, experience and positions on issues. But in the mid-1990s the game changed. Negative attack ads with distorted information surfaced. Then the approach spread like a virus. Negative worked so more candidates and the people backing them behind the scenes used the take-no-prisoners approach. Relatively honest people began to assume they had to fight fire with fire. Thus to this point we arrive against a backdrop of scorched-earth national elections.

A terrible downside is this has discouraged qualified and talented people from entering the election arena, fearing they would be jumping into the mud. The negativity also discourages young people about democracy.

Serving in an elected post, from village trustee to a post in the county courthouse in Platte City or the state capital in Jefferson City, is a noble thing. But only when the post is both won and served in a noble manner. I have a deep respect for honest office holders. As a journalist, I’ve watched many give major chunks of their lives to helping their communities. Most got precious little thanks for doing so.

Knowing how much good can be served makes me all the more regret when someone self serving and with a narrow mind passes through an office.

Informed voters willing to study candidates and issues are the cure for negative advertising. When distortions stop working, candidates will stop using them. This requires some effort from voters. They are so beaten down by divisiveness that it requires considerable willpower to pay attention. Watching comedy television shows on Netflix is far easier.

But we need smooth roads, vibrant park systems, good schools, well trained law enforcement, and pragmatic care of the governmental business systems that help commerce and our daily lives function smoothly. Good government rests on the shoulders of thoughtful voters.

So when the phone rings and the ad pitch comes, watch out for candidates solely relying on buzz words rather than real issues that affect your house on your street. Beware the person pitching national horse hooey rather than addressing local issues. Avoid endorsing any candidate that throws out words that seem divisive on the basis of race or religion.

If you get a live telephone call on behalf of a candidate, take the time to ask several questions about issues important to you. Ditto when the candidate or their spokesperson rings your doorbell. Seek more than a smile and a handshake from someone seeking your vote.

The primary election is Tuesday, Aug. 7. Screen your candidates and go vote. The November general election campaigns will then hasten upon us. Democracy needs you, the informed voter.