Elections: Evaluate candidates carefully

by Judy Ferro

A friend once said he never voted because politicians were so good at deception that he felt he would just end up voting for the biggest liar.

I didn’t have an answer for that so I asked another friend, Jack Fisher. After a moment of thought, Jack said, “Tell him to vote local.”

It makes sense. Vote for candidates whose friends and critics live nearby; candidates without public relations teams; candidates who are out there speaking for themselves.

Yet, voters don’t turn out in droves for local races. In city elections, few of the candidates live more than 10 miles from their farthest contituents. Yet, turnout is about half that for elections with statewide candidates on the ballot.

Why? Perhaps too many of us commute to work and don’t know a lot about our community. Low budget cmapaigns mean most candidates don’t do mailings, much less advertisements. Television covers only heated local elections; voters in Boise have no reason to be interested in profiles of candidates from Notus, Melba, Wilder, etc.

Plus, there are no Ds or Rs after the names to give out-of-the-loop voters a clue—and most candidates claim to be fiscally conservative.

Well, this week is the last chance to talk to friends, read newspapers, ask questions, and make up one’s mind about the city races.

These are factors I consider.

Character. Family, length of residence, club memberships, religious affiliation, etc. are meaningful, but mainly as clues to the central question: Does this candidate expect to serve or to be served? Is the ego big enough for him or her to stand firm when necessary, but not so big that winning every conflict becomes more important than serving?

Intelligence/Knowledge. Good decision makers know the basics of government, can comprehend detailed information, and know where to go and who to talk to when they need information. Wednesday night one of the Nampa Council candidates said that taxpayers paid 4% on Urban Renewal loans and only 1 ¼% on public bonds. That scored points with me for I hadn’t realized rates would be different.

Contribution to team diversity. We elect a team rather than one person so the council has insight into more of its constituency. We need variety not only in gender and race, but also in age, economic status, contacts, and occupation. We wouldn’t want a council made up entirely of contractors any more than we’d want a baseball team made up entirely of shortstops, but it is good to have someone who can estimate costs and review designs.

Ability to prioritize. Any city could benefit from more funding for police, fire departments, libraries, streets, beautification, and outreach to businesses and tourists, as well as lower taxes. Most council decisions aren’t between good and bad, but between good and good. They can be tough. A councilperson must be willing to hear all sides, to compromise, and, when the time comes, to say, “I support this because…” and stick by it. It’s a hard skill to judge, but, certainly, we distrust those who promise too much.

Agreement some important issues. The probability is high that no candidate will agree with you on every issue so it is your turn to prioritize. Are you willing to support a candidate who agrees with you on getting more police on the street even it he or she disagrees about more funding for roads AND on continuing urban renewal?

We can never really know about most of these things. It’s our duty as members of a republic, however, to do our best. Happy researching!


Elections: City Council Candidates Filing Now

by Judy Ferro

Only a relative few of us get to vote tomorrow, one of the Idaho’s four consolidated election days for 2015. Dozens of districts—school, fire, highway, library, etc.—could be holding elections, but only the Middleton School District is. Voters there will decide whether to renew a two-year 2.62 million supplemental levy.

In contrast, only a few of us won’t have ballot choices on the next consolidated election day, Nov. 3. To start with, every city in the county will be electing two or three council members.

Today city clerks will begin accepting candidate declarations for candidates. Filing ends in two weeks; by Sept. 5 we will know what our choices will be. The quality of the candidates filing will be a large factor in determining just how well our cities function for the next two-to-four years. These volunteer positions require a great deal of time and energy and usually entail one or more issues guaranteed to bring conflict and criticism. It’s quite possible that few council seats will be contested.

It’s not hard to become a candidate—one must declare he or she is a registered voter residing in the city and submit either a $40 filing fee or the signatures of five supportive electors. In Caldwell, Greenleaf, and Nampa candidates must specify which seat they are filing for; in Melba, Middleton, Notus, Parma, and Wilder candidates run at large.

In addition, each candidate must now also name a treasurer who will be responsible for filing Sunshine reports listing campaign donations and expenditures.

A good candidate, however, must do a lot more work. If they haven’t attended the majority of council meetings in the last year, they should study the agendas and minutes of past meetings—sometimes available on-line—and understand budget changes during the past few years.

The best candidates may have helped previous candidates by talking to voters about the issues that concern them and researching options adopted by other cities.       Or they may have held an appointed position on some of the city’s committees or commissions which make important decisions, but have a narrower focus than the councils,  Nampa’s website lists 11 such groups; Caldwell’s 18. Included are panels responsible for overseeing services of airports, senior citizen centers, golf courses, libraries, and historic preservation projects as well as the all-important planning and zoning.

It wasn’t until after I became involved in the Democratic Party that I learned that many Democrats serve on city councils in Canyon County. The issues are so different than ones at the national level, that party platforms and ideology are largely irrelevant. Both parties support responsible local governance.

The seats up in Caldwell this year are seat 4, currently held by Shannon Ozuna; seat 5, by Jeremy Feucht; and seat 6, by Terrence Biggers. By odd coincidence, all three were appointed to their current seats; only Shannon Ozuna has previously run and won her seat.

The seats up in Nampa this year are seats 2, 4 and 6, currently held by Stephen Kren, David Bills, and Bruce Skaug.

Incumbents may file early to let others know that they are ready and willing to serve again. Some, however, may wait, perhaps hoping that a candidate they can support will file and they can pass the responsibilities on. We will not know which seats are “open” until after filing closes on Sept. 4.

We can do more than hope to get good candidates. If you know someone who’d make a good council member, talk to them. If you would be interested yourself, talk to everyone who might help you decide and prepare.

Without choices, the right to vote means little.

Politics: Lies and Spin

by Judy Ferro

We have no ‘theories‘ about the shape of the earth—rather we have the facts…the known explored parts of the world are level, flat—a circular dish surrounded by a barrier of ice that man has never penetrated.”

Thus—with a map on the board and a worksheet on every desk—I would begin instructing 7th graders in an anthropology class on how to take two-column notes.

If the earth were a globe, the 100-mile-long Suez Canal would have a center hump 1,666 feet higher than either end.”

Imagine keeping a straight face while watching the faces of 24 incredulous 12-year-olds as you explain the North Pole is the center of a dish; the South Pole, a rim. Sometimes it seemed forever before one finally raised a hand.

“Mrs. Ferro, no one believes that any more.”

“Oh, you have another theory? Well…maybe we need three column notes—topic, text argument, your response?”

It was a crazy class with a strong message: Examine everything. If your teacher will lie to you, anyone may.

I think it was inspired by the classic archeological dig assignment: give students five objects and ask them to describe a society that believed these items were important. Then “find” a new item that requires revising your conclusions. Science is not static. We learn and revise.

I don’t have to spend much time on Facebook to wish more people had been exposed to such a class. This week a friend shared a chart showing how much the Democrats had raised multiple taxes last January 1. If I’d had time, I would have checked each of the tax schedules. As is, I settled for pointing out that all revenue bills must originate in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Why would anyone take the effort to fabricate such a chart? Are they paid or do they just get a kick out of seeing just how many “shares” they get?

A picture of a battered face supposedly belonging to the policeman who shot Mike Brown in Ferguson went viral until authorities said it wasn’t the right man. Were some so anxious for the policeman to be found right that they decided to lie?

Add to that the claims of cancer cures: meditation, yoga, lemons, gaviola fruit, asparagus, marijuana, you name it. Do people want it to be true so much they lie to themselves or are they trying to make money and advance an agenda?

Remember the fear that the calendar change from 1999 to 2000 would strike a staggering blow to our civilization? Thousands of people knew that most non-financial systems were on timers—like our sprinklers—rather than on calendars, but the fear kept growing.

The responsibility of separating facts from lies is inseparable from the right to free speech. We live in a democracy. We need to seek truth.

Some regard politics as disgusting because politicians lie. Some do; most, however, “spin”—emphasize selected truths. If Politician John Doe supported increased total dollars for education which resulted in a drop in per pupil spending, supporters can say he increased spending while opponents say he decreased it.

It’s the duty of citizens to sort through the spin. Fortunately, the Internet gives us a number of resources. The census bureau’s quickfacts (http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd) provides raw data. FactCheck.org and PolitiFact.com analyze claims made in ads and speeches. Snopes.com has been tracking down “urban legends” for nearly twenty years now.

Will Rogers said, “It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.”

Too much of that is going around these days.

Judy Ferro is state committeewoman for the Canyon County Democrats.