Friday, April 06, 2007


(News-Herald, April 5) The flap over party-hopping county commissioner candidates is a new twist on an old Venangoland election tradition.

For virtually every other election it’s normal procedure for candidates for every office from school board to ferret inspector to file as candidates of both parties. This has nothing to do with political philosophy or the principles of one party or another. It has to do with the laziness of county voters.

A candidate for office has two pre-election details to sweat. One is making sure that he is listed with both parties. The other is hoping that his name will be drawn for the top of the candidates listing on the ballot.

Plenty of people in Venangoland still love to vote the straight party ticket with no particular regard for the actual person running. If my dog were running for office, he could get 20% of the votes cast by crossfiling; if his name were at the top of the list, he’d get 35%.

It’s a curious phenomenon because political parties stand for so little these days.

Nationally, the GOP has been spoiled by success. It got tromped in the last election by valuing, as John McCain correctly observed, political power over principle. The GOP forgot that it had any principle other than the desire to keep and exercise power, and so the party that once championed smaller government spent money like a drunken sailor and stuck Uncle Sugar’s nose into every nook and cranny of American life.

The Democrats are similarly principle-free. They have found some things to pretend to believe that get them votes, but their main message is still, “We aren’t those guys.”

As little as parties matter on the national scene, they matter even less here.

Take, for example, the Cranberry School Board. You would think that these folks had run out of ways to embarrass themselves years ago, but no. There are always new ways for them demonstrate the fine art of scrabbling and wrestling for power. It’s hard to escape the impression that the district could be fabulous if the board members focused as much energy on education as they spent on putting “those people” in their place.

This is local, small-time politics at its finest. We’ve watched these two factions, in one form or another, battle it out for years. Yet I would wager that most of us have no idea how the party affiliations stack up in all this mess. Nor in all the heated rhetoric do we read any mention of Democrat or Republican.

The politics are personal. It’s my good, noble friends and I, trying to stop those big doodyheads over there. Small town party affiliations don’t tell us much about the candidate’s ideology or philosophy. Mostly party affiliation tells who they hang with, who they’re loyal to, who sits at their table at the country club.

The requirement that county commissioners not come from all the same party makes sense, not because we need a balance of ideologies, but because it improves the chances of electing people from different political cliques.

I can see why Dems might be touchy about the matter, because that one seat is the only office in the county that a Democrat has a good shot at winning in an election. It has to be annoying to nominally Democratic candidates that some nominal Republicans are trying to take even this small prize away from them.

But for the general public to complain is just silly. Telling Republicans apart from Democrats in this county is not a matter of distinguishing between sheep and wolves or elephants and donkeys. It’s more like distinguishing between guys who wear boxers and guys who wear briefs—it can be done, but not with a quick, superficial glance.

The electorate loves to complain about elected officials, but then, a large portion of the electorate never even shows up to elect. And when it does show up, it doesn’t bother to learn anything about the candidates (who could, on the local level, be anything from a highly-qualified capable grown-up to a clueless dimbulb to my dog).

Yes, sometimes voting is a fruitless exercise. Cranberry’s board isn’t the first to ignore a clear message from the voters, and it won’t be the last.

But if you don’t want to elect a Republican in Democrat’s clothing, don’t vote for it. And if you really want to vote in a way that is useful, learn something about the candidates and decide who has the brains, ability, commitment and skills for the job.

When the time comes, go to the polls. Exercise your ability to think. And if you can’t do that, exercise your ability to stop complaining.

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