Now that summer is slowly turning into fall, darkening earlier each day, people are starting to pay more attention to politics, particularly municipal elections coming up this fall and the redistricting that follows the federal census.
I was attuned to this as I watched both the county and Spring Hope board meetings last week, when the county initiated the redistricting process and Spring Hope mayoral candidate Kyle Pritchard asked town commissioners for permission to hold a campaign rally. Pritchard has also managed to draw local headlines recently, unfortunately unfavorable, for some campaign practices and comments.
With Mayor Buddy Gwaltney stepping down after serving a combined 20-year sentence (oops, I meant term), Pritchard and current Commissioner Prudence Wilkins are competing for his job. Their campaigns are well underway and, by the comments I’ve read, already drawing attention.
Races for the town board should be particularly active with seven candidates for three seats, a sign not only of public interest but also public discontent. Incumbents Brent Cone, Ricky Tucker and Drew Griffin are being challenged by Dap Dunston, Eric Gainey, Jason Himmelright and Tony Jefferys.
Frequently, local elections usually end up as popularity contests, with the most well-known or liked (or least disliked, in many cases) getting the jobs. And usually the campaigning is generally below the radar, almost invisible, because it’s hard enough even to get candidates to run for time-consuming, thankless jobs many residents would gnaw their legs out of traps to avoid.
And that’s too bad, for two simple reasons. One is that local elections are actually far more important and relevant to our lives than the state and national races that suck up all the news coverage. What happens in Washington or Raleigh may affect us, but local leaders are the ones who, day-to-day, run the towns in which we live and determine the quality of our lives.
Secondly, local campaigns should demand our attention because choosing the right leaders is supremely important. The fellow residents we elect will be responsible for managing, protecting and improving where we personally live, work and play. So popularity alone is not a good enough basis for picking commissioners. We all know friends and family members we hold dear, but who don’t belong in office.
The importance of the local elections to our own lives means we voters need to make careful choices for mayor and commissioners. We need to know the quality of their character and the direction of their potential policies before we cast our ballots. If we screw up, we’ll have to endure four years of regret.
The next six or seven weeks will give the candidates, and any media outlets that cover them, ample time to reveal the details we need to know. It’s their job now to convince us, but also our job to push all of them to help us answer some fundamental questions:
• Do they know and really understand our town?
• Do their personal lives and public behavior display honesty and integrity?
• What have they done as residents, over more than just a few recent months, to be involved and contribute to Spring Hope’s betterment? How have they previously shown public service?
• Do they have good judgment and at least some common sense?
• What vision do they have for the town and its future, and what changes do they propose to make Spring Hope better?
These are the questions I want to see answered before the November election, and other voters need to be asking them too, at every opportunity, and weighing the answers carefully.
The Enterprise will be hosting a forum for all nine candidates at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 7, at the Spring Hope Community Building. That place should be packed, and I hope it will be livestreamed and recorded. I’m counting on more campaign reporting as well.
The other sign of politics this fall was the county commissioners’ redistricting discussion last week. The seven commissioner districts must be reviewed to make sure their populations are relatively equal, minorities’ voting rights are protected and communities of interest are preserved.
The state and national elections have become polluted by partisanship and debased by division and rancor. One of the power-grabbing tools is gerrymandering, the carving up of political districts by the party in power to gain partisan or illegal racial advantage. Republicans in Raleigh have twice attempted to doctor the political maps over the last decade, so gerrymandering — and the divisive partisanship — is a real threat statewide.
But it was a pleasure to observe the Republican-led Nash County board discuss with its hired legal firm how to proceed redrawing its districts. As they have done in the past, the commissioners displayed bipartisanship in directing the demographers to reject political and racial gerrymandering when they submit possible maps for consideration on Sept. 20, abiding within the law. And they agreed to full transparency in their meetings and hearing, to assure county residents the newly drawn maps are fair. That’s leadership.
The sewage of partisan politics, with its lies, conspiracies and lunacies, makes lively news but is killing democracy. Good local elections and solid county politicians, who put public trust before private advantage, make less news, but they are key to preserving our political freedom and social harmony.
Ken Ripley, a Spring Hope resident, is The Enterprise’s editor and publisher emeritus.
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