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Pay Attention to Local Elections
Apr 17, 2013
Monday evening, lots of folks were glued to their news dispensers of choice taking in the grim news from Boston. Tuesday evening, I was glued to my computer screen, scanning the Web for first word on the Spearfish municipal election. Two hours after the polls closed, the local paper posted the vote counts: Boke beat Krambeck for mayor, Young beat Moe for city council, Sleep and Bessler beat Rauterkus for school board.
And then everyone went to bed. So much for wall-to-wall coverage to rivet my attention.
It's hard to look away when the national media choose a story to spotlight with continual Breaking Updates. But as important as a crime in Boston is, and as noteworthy and fitting as it is that folks on the Plains can take deep interest in events on the Coast, we sometimes miss the newsworthy events in our own backyards that we can do something about.
Local elections should be a bigger deal. A large majority of my neighbors disagree with me: my rough count says 75% of eligible Spearfish voters did not vote in Tuesday's city election. Poll those people today, and I'll bet you'll find that more of them can tell you the number of people killed (3) or injured (176 listed as I write) at the Boston Marathon than will be able to tell you the vote margin in their own mayoral election (899 for Boke, 790 for Krambeck).
But local elections deserve more discussion. Mayors and city councilors and school board members make decisions for us. Local officials spend our money. They hire folks to do important work for us. They make decisions that affect our daily lives, decisions that, if we're paying attention, we could influence with one phone call or one conversation in the check-out aisle at Lueder's. We ought to talk more with those people and about those people.
Local elections also provide a yearly opportunity for everyone to take a refresher course in civics. Someone ran anonymous ads in the Spearfish mayoral campaign; that gave me the opportunity to review campaign finance law and discover that, son of a gun, that's illegal in Congressional, Legislative, and county commission races but not in municipal races.
Along with reminding ourselves what the law is, elections invite discussion of what the law should be. I strolled through the light Election Day snow to chat with folks waving signs on the street for the Boke campaign (Krambeck had no such clever last-minute campaign push) and had thoughtful conversations about community, conversation, qualifications for office, and term limits. One sign-waving neighbor (campaigning for the challenger, remember, against the incumbent), seemed inclined to believe term limits are good. I said we already have term limits: they're called elections.
And Tuesday, in Spearfish, the election worked as a term limit, trading a 13-year incumbent for a political newcomer promising change and openness. I'll be watching eagerly for the debut of Mayor-Elect Boke's public blog. I wish more people would be watching with me.
Editor's Note: Cory Heidelberger is our political columnist from the left. For a right-wing perspective on politics, please look for columns by Dr. Ken Blanchard every other Monday on this site.
Cory Allen Heidelberger writes the Madville Times political blog. He grew up on the shores of Lake Herman. He studied math and history at SDSU and information systems at DSU, and is currently teaching French at Spearfish High School. A longtime country dweller, Cory is enjoying "urban" living with his family in Spearfish.