Years ago my brother Steve called one day to say, “Sis, why don’t you and I run against each other for school board. It could be fun–and I bet the media would cover it.”
Recently, a candidate who’d been doorknocking reported that a potential supporter told her that he would watch for her ads on television.
Take a guess at which person had a clearer picture of local elections.
Canyon County hadn’t posted all the filings last weekend, but there appear to be at least 170 candidates in Ada and Canyon Counties running for over 100 open positions in city, fire, school, recreation, and cemetery districts.
The sheer numbers make media coverage difficult. Moreover, there are only eight weeks between the end of filing and election day, some positions serve geographic areas with 600 voters or less,and only a few candidates invest–or raise–much money.
The result is most candidates get a few hundred palm cards and take what free publicity they can generate. (Boise City elections, of course, are different.)
What can voters do? Ask friends what they know about the candidates. Watch for forums at libraries or clubs. Check the Internet–there may be a webpage, a business, or even a criminal record. Call candidates if you need to; they’ll answer messages. Read letters-to-the-editor; write one if you admire a candidate. And watch for media coverage in the final weeks of the campaigns.
Having said that, I’m betting Caldwell’s city elections will get good media coverage this year. Every position has four or five candidates. That’s not surprising for the mayor’s position–Garret Nancolas is retiring after holding the office for 24 years–but all three council incumbents aso have multiple opponents.
We can expect a runoff for mayor since the winner has to get 50%. A new rule, however, says council seats go to persons getting the most votes.
Caldwell has had some low turnouts for city elections–under 18% voted in 2019, even in the runoff election between Evangeline Beechler and John McGee . Nampa and Greenleaf were a little better, but Parma, Wilder, and Notus each had mayoral elections and turnouts of 25-34%.
So Caldwell’s winning candidate for mayor may need almost as many votes as were cast in 2019, somewhere around 3,400. With the four- and five-way races for other seats, a candidate could possibly win a council seat with as few as 1,400 votes.
Odds are that at least one race will be won by a small margin. Yes, your vote could be the important one–and that is even truer for small towns and districts.
I have to wonder what would have happened if I’d taken my brother Steve up on his offer. At the time I felt busy and didn’t want to get more tied down, but, looking back, I suspect we could have launched his political career. He had libertarian leanings, but he did support public schools, enjoy people, and have a strong sense of civic duty.
And our society depends on that sense of civic duty. Most seats–especially city council and school board ones–demand substantial time and pay little or nothing. There are always some seats without candidates that continuing board members must try to fill.
And, often, the job is thankless. People tend to pay little attention when things go smoothly–but can get surly, even threatening, when they don’t. We can be grateful that so many fine people are volunteering.
Yet, some candidates are driven by personal ambition rather than by their concern for our communities.
Make the effort to learn as much as you can.