Voters can’t help but feel paranoia in this election

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 25, 2004

So we’ve got seven, huh? Seven candidates running for arguably this city’s most important position. Seven opportunities to select the next mayor of Demopolis.

What’s all the fuss about, then? In every civics class, the teachers always impress upon our feeble minds the utter need for more involvement in public office.

Well, if there’s a civics teacher in Demopolis who expresses concern about the lack of participation by our citizens this year, that teacher should lose tenure immediately. We’ve got plenty of participation, and we may have too much.

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Do what?

Allow me to explain.

I often spend hours on the phone talking with people who are willing to talk back. Over the past week, I’ve spent a lot of oxygen on this mayor’s race, and I’ve discovered the one constant among potential voters in Demopolis: No one has a clue.

If asked to cast a ballot today, most folks would request a blindfold and a dart. It really wouldn’t matter which name they hit because they don’t know much about the candidates. Worse yet, they don’t know what kind of mayor each of the candidates would make.

So far — with about four weeks left until Election Day — the only definite among our seven candidates is that each promises full-time service, with obscure variations of the phrase: “full-time.”

Note to candidates: A full-time pledge does not help your cause, nor will it help you secure many new votes. When enough people have been told the same thing, you might consider finding a new thing to tell people.

The dilemma facing Demopolis voters is not the combination of the words “full” and “time.” Rather, the predicament comes from the glaring deficiency of another word combination. Got any ideas?

How about “Austin Caldwell.”

In my opinion, the confusion of voters stems solely from a two-decade sabbatical from critical thinking.

Four years ago, Caldwell teetered on the edge of retirement, but when many felt the right replacement wasn’t among the field of candidates, an influential group of citizens convinced Caldwell to seek one last term.

On Tuesday, when Caldwell didn’t secretly file qualification papers, a large group of Demopolis voters suddenly felt a large dose of political paranoia. For the first time, voters have to make this mayoral decision on their own, and they don’t have the option of a proven, predictable and trusted incumbent.

Does that mean we have bad candidates running for office?

The simple answer, of course, is that there’s no such thing as a bad candidate. Any person willing to invest time in city service is immune from such a label.

The complex answer, on the other hand, is that we have such a large field of candidates that most voters can’t avoid feeling a smidgeon of paranoia. One candidate may have an enormous amount of energy while another candidate has a calming sense of control.

When there are seven candidates, the job of a voter becomes even more complex simply because they have more comparisons to make in the decision process.

Is that a bad thing? Not really. Voters should be forced to think, and such a diverse group of candidates dictates they do so.

Then again, such a large field does create an unhealthy quandary for voters. In the process of narrowing the field of seven down to one, a great majority of voters will thoughtfully look through the list of candidates and begin eliminating the ones they don’t trust. And almost immediately, voters have altered the most important purpose of the election process.

The role of a voter is to select the person most capable of doing the job. The absolute antithesis to the democratic process is when voters de-select candidates most incapable of doing the job.

In the case of our Aug. 24 election, many voters will cast their ballots against a group of candidates rather than for one particular person. That’s unhealthy, but more disconcerting is the reality that we just don’t know much about these candidates.

Unfortunately, four weeks isn’t enough time to make much of an educated decision. (The presidential candidates, for instance, started campaigning 18 months before their election.)

As the newspaper of record in Demopolis, it will be our responsibility to inform voters about the candidates and how those candidates would govern if elected.

More importantly, the candidates must make a commitment to clearly defining why they deserve election and how they plan to serve if elected.

How will you go about budgeting? What traits will you look for in a new police chief? What’s the first thing you’ll cut if expenses exceed revenue? What’s the first thing you’ll add if revenues exceed expenses? What recommendation will you make to council members when 14 different citizens ask you to pave 14 different streets? On what will you base your criteria, and why in the world did you base your criteria on that?

And one last question: Why should we vote for you and not against everyone else?