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Dec 12, 201604:17 PMOpen Mic

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1 way to get candidates for public office — ask them to run

(page 1 of 2)

Wisconsin not only has a workforce shortage, but in many cases also a candidate shortage. According to the 2016 State of Wisconsin Cities and Villages Report sponsored by the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, most local government positions have one or fewer candidates on the ballot next spring. In small communities, the level of competition is even lower.

How do we encourage people to run for office? How do we fill the committees, councils, and boards that perform critical policy-making work? How do we get people to connect with their government? It’s a timely topic. December is the month citizens take out nomination papers for local offices. The deadline for turning them in is Jan. 3, 2017.

We know that about 20% of all local offices will turn over next April. We also know that it is becoming more difficult to convince residents to stand for election and serve. The 2016 State of Wisconsin Cities and Village Report found that over half of cities and villages will not have a contested race on the ballot next year. In some places there will be blank spots on ballots.

Disengagement of citizens from their government is not new; it has been developing for years. This fall’s gutter-level discourse at the national level does not help. If national politics is that ugly, who can blame citizens for avoiding elections at the city level?

But a democracy cannot function without involved citizens. Ours is a government “of the people and by the people …” — literally. I was shocked when Wauwatosa Mayor Kathy Ehley told me she has 250 spots on citizen committees that must be filled for her city to function properly. Even Bayfield, population 481, relies on 75 to 100 volunteers. There is no ruling class in American government; we’re it. In all communities, but especially the smaller cities and villages that define most of Wisconsin, it takes a village to run a village.

So what’s the answer? Here’s one: Ask them.

Some parts of this problem are beyond our control. We cannot halt demographics, and we can’t reshape the national dialog. But we are not powerless. In fact, you have the most important tool within your grasp. You know your community; you know the people who live there. Ask them to serve. Talk about different ways they can serve. If they say no, ask someone else.


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Dec 13, 2016 02:55 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

first until moving to Madison a few months ago I heavily volunteered for my local town government (I am still trying to get rid of a committee position on an inter-governmental body!) Second on several incidents I have turned down requests to run for offices that I have a lot of qualifications to do. The main reason was time- most of these elected (as opposed to committee work) takes 20+ hours a week and I often need to work 2 jobs. What has worked (and what I have supported and helped make work locally) is approaching someone and offering a team of people to not only help them get elected (I have worked for candidates with no money who were opposed by people with $5-8,000 budgets- the people with no money won by the way)but also support them when they are elected doing tasks that need to be done . If you are willing to do 5 -8 hours a week to get someone elected and maybe 5 hours a month to help them do their essentially volunteer elected job then don't be surprised to find no one willing to run for office. Especially given the amount of venom and arrogance that exists in Wisconsin .

Dec 15, 2016 12:25 pm
 Posted by  Jeanne R.

Great article Jerry! I've seriously considered a future run for my city's common council -- at the very least, a committee or commission position. I read things like this, and it keeps that fire burning. On my to-do list . . .

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