Tuesday, November 06, 2007

County Commissioners ('03 Edition)

Just happened across this, which is what I had to say about the commissioners' race in 2003. I still agree with all of it, even though today's election involved a whole other batch of clowns...

(News-Herald, March 2003)Suddenly, everyone wants to be a county commissioner. It’s uncanny, particularly when you think of all those years we couldn’t give the job away.

Not that I’m complaining. The most common problem we have in local elections is lack of choice. It’s great to have a decision to make; the trick is to figure out how exactly to do it. I’m reminded of an old political saw: if twelve clowns are performing in the center ring, you can jump in and start reciting Shakespeare, but to the audience you’ll just be the thirteenth clown. Soon we voters will have to learn to tell these clowns apart.

It’s too early to endorse anyone by name, and I don’t think I know the whole list of candidates anyway. But I already know what I’m looking for.

First, remember what the commissioners can and can’t do. It’s a mistake to think that the commissioners can magically create thriving businesses out of thin air. County government has the ability to get in the way of many things, but not a lot of power to make things happen.

So insisting that more businesses would come here if the commissioners would just wave a magic wand and make a money tree spring from the ground is silly. Nor do I want to solve unemployment by making the government so large that everybody in the county works for it.

But future commissioners do need to have a plan for cooperative regional economics. If candidates don’t know their way around the Bosworth report, they’d better have some ideas of their own.

Second, I want a commissioner to be a clear-eyed cheerleader.

Clear-eyed because there are certainly challenges that we face as a county, and we won’t deal with them successfully by ignoring them.

Clear-eyed because we need, in all our local leaders, some vision. It is useless to define our challenges in terms of what’s gone. It will not help us to look at our present and talk about how it differs from our past. Past is past; it’s gone. What we need to look at is how our present is different from the future we want for ourselves, and how we can bridge that gap.

If we have a serious vision weakness locally, it is our preoccupation with the past. We used to have more jobs at Joy. We used to have oil industries. All that is true. It’s just that, in terms of keeping our county vital, it doesn’t mean jack.

It’s as if we’re a family on a long car trip and we get out the map and spend hours going over the roads that got us to where we are. Well, if we’re going to continue the trip, we don’t need to know where we’ve been. We need to know where we’re going.

And “we’ll keep doing the same old thing and try to cut corners while we do it,” is not a plan for the future. It’s a recipe for helplessness. Keep cutting corners, and pretty soon you have nothing left at all.

So the clear-eyed part is important, but so is the cheerleader part.

I don’t want a mindless cheerleader. I don’t want someone with a smile pasted across his face telling me that a broken water main is good because it’ll water the grass. I don’t want someone to come watch my house burn down and tell me how pretty it looks.

But I have no patience for civic and business leaders in our area whose basic pitch seems to be, “Hey, we’re in horrible economic trouble and the business climate is awful and our people are leaving in troop ships and the weather sucks and grass won’t grow here and the sun never shines and we don’t even have a Starbucks. Don’t you want to come here to live and work?”

I don’t want to be represented by someone who is ashamed to live here, who thinks all our young people should run away, who thinks that we are on the brink of disaster and there’s nothing we can do but curl up and try to bounce when we hit bottom.

We have considerable resources in this county, a multitude of tools with which to build a future. The county commissioner candidates that I vote for will be people who can see that and are prepared to invest in it.

The candidates that I vote for will be folks who see county government as a resource. They’ll be able to manage effectively because they’ll see our county employees as people who work to help maintain quality of life in the county, and not a barrel-load of flunkies who need to be slapped up and kept in line.

We have many resources in Venango County; they aren’t infinite, but numerous and rich nonetheless. If you want my vote, tell me about that. Otherwise, I’m afraid you’ll just be the thirteenth clown.

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