Where have all the good candidates gone?

Robert Houk • Oct 28, 2013 at 9:28 AM

“Why can’t we get any good candidates to run for public office?”That’s a question I’ve heard often in recent years. It’s one that is sure to be asked next year when voters go to the polls to decide a number of important races for county, state and federal offices.Recently, I heard the question posed in regard to the Washington County Commission. There seems to be a thought among some county residents (particularly from those who live inside Johnson City and Jonesborough) that there just aren’t many “good” candidates for the County Commission.The job of a county commissioner is usually a thankless one, even under the best of circumstances. Most folks don’t even know who their commissioners are, much less what they do. That’s certainly true of many residents of Johnson City, who generally don’t pay much attention to county elections. (To be fair, though, that same disinterested portion of the electorate is also prone to ignore municipal elections.)A few years back, I asked a friend how she planned to vote in a county wheel tax referendum. “Oh, I can’t vote,” she told me. “I live in Johnson City.”I explained to her it was a county-wide referendum and she, too, was a citizen of Washington County and as such was quite eligible to vote on the issue. This information seemed to confuse her, as it does others who have a problem understanding our system of government.That’s why we need “good” candidates elected to these offices. We should have people in government who not only understand the important role government plays in the lives of their constituents, but who can readily explain that role to those constituents.We Americans have traditionally expected a lot from our elected officials. We want them to be as brave as David, as wise as Solomon and as strong as Samson. We also expect them to deliver on their promises.How do we find such individuals, particularly for local and state offices? It’s not easy these days. Just ask any member of a civic club, charity or church if they are having trouble recruiting young, talented people to take on a leadership role in their organizations. I’ll bet they will tell you it is a struggle.That’s unfortunate. Community leaders usually make “good” candidates when it comes to local offices. They know the needs of the community they wish to serve, and have made real and personal connections that prove to be extremely beneficial if they are elected to office. These folks truly consider themselves to be public servants, not professional politicians. I believe career politicians — those who put their own partisanship and narrow ideology before serving the needs of their constituents — are the reason so many elected officials at all levels of government are held in such low esteem today.We — the people — must share the blame for the low caliber of candidates we are forced to choose from. We shouldn’t have to settle for career politicians. That’s why I believe every ballot for every race for public office should include a box to check that says: “None of the above.”Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at rhouk@johnsoncitypress.com.

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