You may notice that this season's Voter Pamphlet is a bit thin, and that there aren't too many names crowding the ballot. That's because, well, apparently the candidates forgot to show up for the party. Maybe they didn't know they were invited.
Of the four open seats on the Central Oregon Community College board, only one is contested, and only two of the four seats on the Bend Parks & Recreation District Board have more than one candidate. And—most disappointing—every single one of the five seats available on the Bend-La Pine School Board is uncontested. Every one!
While we endorse Fishkin and Chenoweth (see facing page) for Position 1 and 5—and are genuinely excited about their potential contributions to the Parks and Recreation District Board—an election without a robust field of candidates is nothing short of a wasted opportunity.
When Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes coined the phrase "the marketplace of ideas" nearly a century ago, he was arguing that America survives and grows only because we share ideas—the good, the bad and the ugly. Much in the same way that frogs first tested out their land legs, democracy requires experimentation and throwing a variety of ideas at a challenge—and requires that we actually have a choice between sandwiches from Subway and sandwiches from New York City Sub Shop, not to mention a choice between persons who will best represent our collective interests in two of the public arenas that matter most to the region—schools and parks.
Capitulating an election cycle to fewer choices robs our city and region from the opportunity to truly shop for ideas and leaders—not to mention bypassing any meaningful process of honing and shaping those concepts and representatives.
Campaigns and debates are not just about showboating toothy grins, they are important opportunities for candidates and their ideas to grow and mature. Moreover, when candidates face no opposition, they have no incentive to differentiate themselves by telling us what they really stand for.
For instance, Central Oregon Builders Association Vice President of Government Affairs Andy High was appointed to the school board position vacated by Beth Bagley after she was elected judge last September. Now High, who is widely recognized as a key player in pushing a GOP agenda in our region, is running unopposed for a seat on the board. What does it mean to have him on our school board? We don't know because, with no opposition, the community had no incentive to press him on his values.
There are plenty of culprits for this lack of candidates. For this week's Boot, we single out organized political parties. Republicans, Democrats and even smaller parties like the Green Party and the Libertarians failed to show up, and missed out on a golden opportunity to use these municipal policy boards to implement policies at a level that affects day-to-day lives. They also missed a chance to groom viable candidates for higher-level seats such as city council, county commission and state races.
The campaign cycle this time around simply does not measure up to the importance and quality of a marketplace of candidates that we deserve. Step it up! In the mean time, here's The Boot!