It’s election season. Yard signs dot the roadways, imploring motorists to notice campaigns and remember names when ballots arrive in the mailbox. As a former elected official, I know the drill all too well. Campaign signs are designed for the low information voter. Low information voters rarely delve into the qualifications of candidates running for office. They might not even read the official voters pamphlet that also arrives in the mailbox, but they might remember a campaign sign they drove past 17 times over the last month.
This election cycle, don’t be a low information voter. Read up on the candidates running to represent you on city councils, port districts, school boards, and fire districts. Check out the websites of those running for office. Better yet, contact them by phone or email to find out where they stand on issues that are important to you. If they don’t return your call or email as a candidate, they sure won’t as an elected official.
What makes a good political leader?
Good candidates generally make good leaders. It takes a lot of energy to run an effective campaign. High energy generally translates to a political leader who is up for the task ahead. It takes motivation to put up signs, articulate positions and incorporate them into a website, attend community meetings and go door to door asking for votes. A good political leader knows the issues citizens care about. A good political leader is an avid communicator with those they represent. They also understand good communication is a two-way street. Good political leaders listen and they act.
A good political leader has courage to stand up for what they believe in and also own up to mistakes. It’s important to remind ourselves there is no perfect candidate, otherwise Jesus would be on the ballot. Candidates and elected officials are human. They make mistakes just like the rest of us. But the best ones are those who are honest, thoughtful and considerate of the opinions on all sides of a debate and conduct themselves with civility at all times.
Do some politicians stay too long?
Often, incumbents who have held their posts for more than a few terms settle into their roles a little too easily. They get very comfortable. They put a greater emphasis on their own opinion over those they represent, and they stop asking tough questions at public meetings and instead rely on the staff report for their marching orders.
They may also become complacent and end up “institutionalized” by the government bureaucrats who they have worked with for numerous years.
They should have professional and courteous relationships with those people at city hall, in the school administration office or in the port offices where they are the legislative authority, but they should not develop chummy friendships with the professional bureaucrats. Elected officials are selected by voters to represent citizens, not government workers.
Elected officials have been entrusted by voters to do the important job of setting policy and controlling the purse strings of a public agency. If you feel those representing you have stayed too long, vote for the challenger.
As voters, we have an obligation to do our homework before we vote.
This November, study the voters’ pamphlet. Educate yourself about the candidates running for office and make a truly informed decision that will best represent your values.
Liz Pike is a retired Washington state representative who served three terms from 2012 to 2018. Today she operates Shangri-La Farm, a small-scale organic farm in Fern Prairie with her husband Neil. She also teaches oil painting classes. Her work is featured in local galleries and at several outdoor summer art festivals. She can be reached at (360) 281-8720 or email@example.com.