There are some big decisions to be made in the spring election. On a national level, the Democrats will be choosing their candidate to challenge President Trump next November. At the state level, incumbent State Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly will try to retain his seat on the bench against an onslaught of liberal challengers. There are a slew of judges on the ballot for the various Courts of Appeals and county circuit courts.
All of these elections are important for the future of our nation and state, but one would need to look further down the ballot to find choices that, if not more important, have more impact on one’s daily life. Elected leaders of cities, villages, counties, school boards, towns, and other local offices have a tremendous influence on things we use and do every day. Also, as every property owner in Wisconsin just saw when they received their property tax bills, these local officials spend and tax a tremendous amount of money.
For example, a city alderman or village trustee makes decisions on the quality of local roads, plans for plowing those roads when the snow flies, provides for fire and police protection, enforces local building codes, manages parks and recreation centers, controls the library, runs garbage pickup, oversees water and sewer services, and so much more. While the sometimes esoteric impact of a Supreme Court ruling or a presidential directive may affect our lives, the failure of the city to provide clean water or pick up the garbage certainly will. One of the many unfortunate effects of the economic decline in local journalism is that many of these local races go unreported and the candidates go unscrutinized. In years past, several local newspapers, radio news desks, and television news teams would have competed to dig into the backgrounds and qualification of even a simple aldermanic candidate. The shift of advertising spending to digital platforms has starved these local journalism outlets of the money to pay for large news staffs that can do that kind of work. The result has been that much of what people learn about local candidates, if anything, comes from unvetted stories and rumors passed around in the whirlwind of social media.
The positive effect of the modern digital age is that it is easier than ever for local candidates to introduce themselves and get their message out in their own words. This relies on citizens taking the time to look for the candidate’s information, but many of the candidates are able to share much more comprehensive information about themselves without the filter of a media outlet. It is just up to the judgement of the citizen to ascertain the truth of a candidate’s message.
None of that matters, however, if people do not run for local offices. Perhaps partly because of the friction created by social media and partly because of the intimidating process, fewer people seem willing to run for local offices. As of now, with three weeks remaining until the filing deadline, there are dozens of open county and local elected offices across the state for which nobody is running yet. It is impossible to have a system of selfgovernance if nobody actually runs for office.
Running for office — even a local office — can be daunting the first time. There is the fear of public scrutiny, confusion over the electoral process, concern over complying with all of the regulations, and worry about the time commitment to run for office. Then there is worry about the job itself. Government financing, regulations, and the nuances of public policy can be challenging to master.
Take heart, fellow citizens, it really is not that hard. Our entire system of self-governance is built around principle that we, the people, will decide how to run our public affairs — amateurs though we are. If you want to run for public office, get in touch with the local city or county clerk. They are generally tremendously friendly and helpful and will share a wealth of information. In every community, there are also local groups and veteran elected officials who are willing to help navigate the electoral process.
The key thing with any local race is that the candidate must get out and talk to people. Walk around the district and knock on doors. People are friendlier than you might think and full of perspective and wisdom. Visit the local VFW or Moose Lodge to chat with the members. Accept invitations to any local forums or debates and speak openly about your views. Just get out into the community you want to represent. Even if you lose the race, the experience of getting to know your community is enriching.
If you are considering running for a local elected office, it is time to act. Consider this: If not you, then who?
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