Sedona AZ (May 26, 2016) – It’s just about that time again. The phone will start ringing at the most inconvenient times. The mailbox will be stuffed with cards and flyers. TV ads will take on a distinctly combative tone. And signs will sprout up, seemingly overnight, in the neighbors’ yards and all around the city.
Yes, another political campaign season is heating up. Of course, the Presidential candidates have been going at it for many months already, and we just voted on two statewide initiatives as well. But that was just a warm-up act for the fireworks and high volume onslaught to come between now and early November.
Amid all that political chaos is an intriguing irony, which is this – the campaigns that will have the most direct effect on our daily lives and for which our votes count the most are the campaigns that intrude the least on our daily lives: our city council elections.
Five of the seven Sedona City Council seats, including the Mayor’s, will be contested this summer and fall. And although there are likely to be significant differences among the candidates, it’s certain that their campaigns will be much more civil and sound much more similar to each other than the partisan, heavily financed campaigns of the candidates for national and state offices. That can be a good thing and a bad thing.
It’s good because we can actually have meaningful discussions about our own city’s future, without most of the ideological rhetoric that accompanies party politics. But it can be bad because without those party labels to fall back on, it takes more work to figure out who will best represent our individual and collective interests. And because work takes time (and none of us has much of that) it might be very tempting to survive the campaign season by just ignoring the local election entirely.
That would be a shame, because it would leave the selection of our next council, and the future of our city, up to a very small minority. So in hopes of making it a little easier to evaluate this year’s local candidates, whether at community debates or at your front door, here are some questions you could ask them. There are no right or wrong answers, except as your preferences dictate. So it’s also important that you consider which questions you believe are relevant and what you think the answers should be.
- What has prepared you to be a city councilor? (Education, previous public service, interpersonal skills, business experience, etc.)
- What is a councilor’s most important responsibility? (Safety and protection, health and welfare, fiscal control, community involvement, representing the majority, preservation of history and values, etc.)
- Do you approve of the city government’s current direction; why or why not? (The candidates’ answers could reveal how much they know about city plans as well as what they think of those plans.)
- What do you think is the city’s most important issue, and what would you do about it? (Consider not just what’s hot at the moment, but what issues have serious and lasting importance.)
- What is your position on [insert a current issue], and why? (This is probably the most often asked question of candidates and it could make you appear to be a “one issue” voter. But if you are steadfastly for or against that new dog park or art museum or roundabout, be sure to ask. And be open to a thoughtful discussion if the candidate disagrees with you.)
- What sources of information would you rely on most in deciding how to vote on a key issue? (Citizen comments, city staff recommendations, other councilors’ opinions, outside experts, news media stories and editorials, etc.)
- Under what conditions would you ever cast a vote as councilor that went against the majority wishes of the citizens? (You may believe “never” is the right answer; or you may expect and trust your councilors to take unpopular action if they believe it’s in the public’s best interest.)
- What does “vote your conscience” mean to you, and is that what you would do on council? (This question could provide interesting insight into candidates’ value systems and whether they would be able to compromise them, if necessary.)
We are often told that in our country of 140,000,000 registered voters every citizen’s vote for President makes a difference. And if that’s true, then in our city of 6800 registered voters every citizen’s vote for mayor or city council makes 20,000 times more difference than their vote for President. Let’s make them count.
The opinions expressed are mine alone and do not reflect the opinions of the Sedona City Council.