LENA MITCHELL: Candidates too often surprised by reality

By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal Corinth Bureau

We return to the polls Tuesday to vote in runoff elections for the candidates who will be on the ballot in the Nov. 2 statewide general election.
This is a time when I’m reminded, as I am in every election cycle, of why it is so important to vote, but also to be an informed voter.
The first primary on Aug. 2 held more candidates for more offices than any election I’ve covered for the Daily Journal.
From the arms-length lists of names in the most-contested races, the choices have been winnowed down to two candidates. If there’s no opposition on Nov. 2, an outright win could result.
As someone who regularly covers government meetings week after week, month after month, year after year, I continue to be amazed at the number of candidates whom I’ve never seen attend any meeting of the body to which they want to be elected. Then – surprise, surprise – when the candidate is elected he is shocked that he’s unable to accomplish all that he’s promised.
“Oh, we aren’t in charge of that?”
“Oh, that’s not legal?”
“Oh, we have an ordinance against that?”
“Oh, we have to get state legislation changed to do that?”
The reality sets in not only because of how slowly government operates, but also because of limits imposed by local, state or federal law or regulations written to govern how those laws are administered.
Though some meetings are broadcast on local access cable channels where the average voter can follow proceedings, most of the local governments are not. And much of the nitty gritty work of government goes on in work sessions that are scheduled in addition to regularly scheduled meetings.
Countywide officeholders are in a particularly sensitive period right now. Local budgets must be finalized and approved by Sept. 15, weeks before the general election, so everything they do is under closer scrutiny and any tax increase could be held against them at the polls.
Even for the first-term officeholders this is the fourth budget cycle. By now not only would they have more than three years of experience under their belts, they’ve had a chance to gain three years of additional training and three years to talk with people from other counties with more experience at the same job.
The least voters should expect of a newcomer to office is that he or she would have experience at managing their own household budgets.
Recently conservative commentator Kathleen Parker asked a question about some national figures talking about the national debt: “Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips and Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin … both declared bankruptcy, yet they’re advising Tea Party Republicans on debt?”
Wonder what would happen to those lengthy lists of candidates who hold themselves out to voters as a better choice for office if they had to go through the scrutiny of a credit check. Doubtless some of them would drop by the wayside.
I recognize that the people who put themselves in the line of fire as political candidates have much more courage – not to say audacity – than I could muster. Many of them are even sincerely committed to public service.
However, I will continue to ask that candidates offering themselves up for this service do the minimum due diligence and find out about the job to which they’d like to be elected.
Lena Mitchell writes a Sunday column for the Daily Journal. Contact her at lena.mitchell@djournal.com.