Across Mississippi on Wednesday morning, there are hundreds of people who offered themselves in service to their communities but did not come out on top when the votes were counted.
It can be a tough hit to take. Most of these folks spent the spring and the summer pounding the pavement to meet voters. They gave up time with their families. They may have brought home lighter paychecks because they took leave to make time for forums and town hall meetings. And on Tuesday night, they didn’t get a check by their name as their party’s nominee. They may not have won, but they don’t deserve derision.
No matter if we agree with their positions or approve of their qualifications, we owe our appreciation to the people who were willing to seek public office. Democracy doesn’t work if people aren’t willing to risk rejection.
In my experience, most people enter the public arena with the best intentions. They see things that could be better. They want to make a difference in the lives of people in their communities.
Running for public office is time consuming, expensive and emotionally draining. They face skepticism, cynicism and apathy.
Politics has been called a blood sport for good reason. In these days of tribal partisanship, local political candidates who want to talk about potholes, bridges and local schools may end up being quizzed about the actions of Congressional leaders representing people thousands of miles away.
Sadly for candidates, the higher the office, the more likely people are to misrepresent your views, question your character and take pot shots at your family. The easy thing is to stay home and complain to your buddies.
Some of the hurdles for those seeking public offices are healthy. Candidates should face tough questions from the voters and journalists. There should be close scrutiny of their qualifications and past actions. They will be responsible for wisely spending tax dollars, crafting legislation, appointing people to public boards and overseeing public services. We the voters are entrusting them with great power.
To make wise decisions, voters need accurate information. I frequently see comments on social media demanding that the press write positive stories about a favored candidate. I wish more people would ask for broader scrutiny of all candidates. Their proposals and campaign promises should be analyzed; their qualifications should be tested. That’s not a comfortable process, but it’s a necessary one for our democracy.
As voters hold politicians accountable, we need to hold ourselves accountable. It’s our job as voters to know what a county supervisor can and can’t do so we can’t be fooled by overly ambitious proposals. If we don’t understand how our county and state government functions, we are easy pickings for candidates who invoke culture war rhetoric instead of discussing their record of public service and proposals to improve our communities.
Our work as voters isn’t done for this election season. There are primary runoffs on Aug. 27 in a number of races. The general elections are set for Nov. 5. You have time to carefully consider which candidates will best serve their communities. No one party has a monopoly on ideas for making their communities or this state a better place.
If our fellow citizens can put themselves on the line as candidates, the least we can do for them is to be informed voters. See you at the polls.