The mayor’s last word

By on October 29, 2014

Long run for candidates only the beginning

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Jackson Hole, Wyoming – In this last week of our general election, candidates can see the finish line. Some will win a seat, many for their first time, and begin their term of public service. The rest will lick their wounds, wonder what more they might have done, and return to private life. All of these candidates deserve our gratitude for their willingness to serve – not the most popular calling in this age of cynicism and distrust of elected office.

For me, 12 years of public service to the people of Jackson is almost over. This weekend’s Kiwanis Follies tagged me, “Your Lame Duckness” – I laughed with gratitude. It seems fitting to take a look at what drives the desire to serve in today’s environment of seeming indifference. Fewer and fewer Americans vote, especially in primary races, under the banner of many an excuse. But that doesn’t tamp down the personal investment and sacrifice the candidate makes in his or her bid for public office.

Six campaigns for the mayor’s seat and a dozen years of public service is an eye-opener. Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill coined the phrase, “All politics is local.” One thing’s certain: all local politics is local! Your town council, county commissioners, county offices and state legislators serve on the front lines, where their constituents live.

The candidates we’ll vote for this coming Tuesday have, for the most part, been honed by the election process. They’ve put their own money in the pot and asked their friends and others to contribute to the campaign. Summer and fall months tumbled by as candidates met with committees to work on messaging, finances, advertising, voting district analysis, door-to-door campaigning, public forums, infinite texting, media interviews and as many coffees with constituents as they could swallow. Many a sleepless night, bottles of antacids, and more than a few moments lost deep in thought have become the new norm. Truly, it’s humbling.

Many of these candidates put it all out there, on the line. Kids’ soccer games missed, days off consumed, family time shot – this is life now. Everyone should learn what it takes and what it feels like to spend an hour or two after work several days a week and many weekends going door to door. It’s not for the faint at heart to knock on some unsuspecting neighbor’s door, stand on their front step, greet them with a big ol’ smile and ask for their vote. You can expect a few doors to be shut in your face, a disparaging remark here and there. And hey, this is just the election process!

Campaigning is all about looking good and sounding informed. Serving is about none of that – it’s about making informed decisions. Right out of the box, you get the budget – the whole budget, not just that narrow part candidates focused on in the campaign. The blinders come off and the view is all encompassing – revenue streams, service levels (staffing), human services funding, etc. Each dollar invested affects the very people you represent – all of them – and the revenue is finite. Planning and development applications become very real when your neighbors, your associates, your friends are over here while the information and facts take you over there. You were elected to make decisions, each on its own merits and it is anything but a popularity contest.

Is it worth all this? Yes. Few individuals will step up to it, and fewer will pass muster, but this is our representative government at work. It is a humbling experience to serve and I truly thank you for the privilege of working for you. It is not a job – it’s public service. I ask only one thing: Vote on Tuesday, November 4! It matters.

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