Candidates’ ineptitude impressive
The primary election is over, and so is our two-month ordeal of campaign mediocrity. Unfortunately, the races for District 3 and District 4 supervisors won’t be settled until the general election in November, so we can look forward to yet another round of the same mediocrity.
I’d like to thank the candidates for their commitment to discussing the issues, running on their qualifications, and avoiding negative campaigning. I’d like to, but I can’t, because they didn’t. In fact, I think this was one of the most flawed election seasons in recent history.
How do good candidates go astray? Most candidates fail the public in two ways. First, they fail to express any meaningful messages in writing. Second, they don’t deliver their messages to enough voters. Incumbents have a third possibility: to either exaggerate or gloss over their records, based on the assumption that we have very short memories.
Let us assume these failures were honest blunders. I’m being generous, since undoubtedly some moves by some candidates were based on calculated cynicism and low regard for the voters.
Here’s what struck me as clumsy:
Failure to mail. Some candidates didn’t mail. Imagine the money they saved. Imagine the votes they lost! For example, even though I’m a regular voter, I never received a mail piece from either candidate for clerk-recorder. The same was true of Denis Kutch’s campaign. I got a pitch for money from Bruce Conklin, but it didn’t include any beliefs or ideas. You’d think the candidates would know that forums and FCAT don’t reach everyone. Neither (I am sad to report) is The Union read by everyone.
Mail but no message. Some candidates sent vague, brief mailings. Conley Weaver is the master of the content-free mailing. I got four “feel-good” postcards from the Weaver campaign, all declaring that he has “a proven record of neighborhood protection.” Translation: He votes “no” at Planning Commission meetings. That may be fine when the issue is an 80-unit apartment building. The postcards didn’t mention the Nevada City Planning Commission’s votes against a wheelchair ramp, a deli, a deck for a Cabin Street house or a remodeling of a shack on Clay Street.
Message but no mail. Denis Kutch ran a big ad in The Union, and it was filled with substance. It addressed issues that Arnett and Weaver had conspicuously ignored, including Nevada City’s budget and infrastructure. I wish Kutch had mailed the piece.
Too much spin. Mark Johnson had a short, punchy, grand piece about the many things he had done as an incumbent on the Grass Valley City Council. I believe it included leading the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt. Likewise, Supervisors Conklin and Martin were quick to spin real achievements, trivial items, or even failures into triumphs. This would include the new juvenile hall (but not the cost overruns), the new wages for sheriff’s deputies (but not the months of stalling), and new funding for mental health (but no bulletproof glass until after people were shot).
Letters to the editor. During a campaign, letters fill the op/ed page of The Union. There are few facts, but lots of feelings, expressed in love letters about candidates. By now we are all totally assured that all candidates are hard-working and refrain from beating their children and spouses. Candidates are incapable of seeing when these trumped-up fan letters cease helping them.
What didn’t get said. Bruce Conklin’s red-and-blue mailer omitted any mention of NH 2020. In The Union’s candidate interviews on its Web page, Conklin never forthrightly said he supported it. Is it any wonder that Drew Bedwell got more votes? In her interview, Izzy Martin failed to mention NH 2020 at all. Would it be any surprise if she lost to Sutherland in November?
To all this, you can add Web page fiascos, defaced signs, denied quotes, grandstanding, and the manufacture of phony issues. It’s clear to me that what our local candidates lack in sophistication, they make up for in ineptness.
It’s a paradox of American politics, but you can do any or all of the above and still win. The solution? I’d like to see mandatory intelligence tests for candidates, but then maybe nobody would qualify to run.
Barry Schoenborn is a technical writer, and a 13-year resident of Nevada County. His column appears the second Saturday of the month.
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