Election season is once again upon us. From local races to national ones, it seems like every election cycle is critical. What should you look for in a candidate? Mere partisanship is not enough. For example, four years ago, everyone was rightfully pissed at Trump and his supporters. But, I know of situations where they expressed that anger by voting in local races for any individual who happened to have a “D” by their name, electing people that other Democrats have come to view as toxic. In our local school board races (a subject near and dear to my heart), you can’t fall back on partisan labels anyway. So, how do you pick the people who are going to be good for your community and good at governing?
I’m going to suggest that we all look for the builders. Look for the people who participate in the community and make its institutions stronger. The people who coach little league or organize field trips or plan the Rotary fundraisers. The ones who strengthen the non-profits, run the food drives, or build props for the musical. Avoid the ones who seem always to tear down. Partisanship for partisanship’s sake is a red flag. The people who are perpetually beating a drumbeat of doom, eager to cast stones at functional and dysfunctional institutions and programs alike, never giving credit where it is due — these people are not seeking to improve things. And, if placed in office, they will not improve things. What kind of job do you think a person is going to do in office if they spend their days and nights on social media tearing down organizations they seek to lead? If they paint every bump in the road as a crisis, do you think they’ll suddenly become level-headed and efficient once elected? If negative drama is their brand, it’s not going to change just because they become an officeholder.
This sort of advice might ring hollow, might even be hollow, for state and federal races. Politics at that level is, to some extent, gang warfare; and it’s a numbers game. If your gang is on the outs, it doesn’t matter how civic minded its members might be. But local politics doesn’t have to be that way, and shouldn’t be that way. Don’t vote for the person who shows up to the public meeting to yell at local officials about, say, health policy but who would never volunteer at the vaccine clinic or serve as secretary on the parent-teacher association. Vote for the person who would organize an ice cream social to raise money for the school music program. If your school’s serving the public well, look for the candidates who have been involved in making it that way.
Ultimately, with local races, take the time to find out who the people are, and what they’ve done for the community. If their only claim to fame is an active online presence or pointed and perpetual criticism of the institutions they seek to run, electing them is going to give you a bad time. You might find yourself wondering why that little slice of local government you used to never hear about is suddenly a dysfunctional source of headlines.