One of the things I've gained during this campaign is a new appreciation for how challenging it can be to produce and facilitate a meaningful and substantive political debate that is valuable to voters. Between the spring primary and the general election, I can think of at least eight events where myself and some combination of other candidates for office were asked to debate (or converse, or discuss) the issues facing Richmond and Wayne County for an hour or more.
At each event, as a candidate I've tried to balance a series of (sometimes competing) goals for my participation, including:
A recent editorial in the Palladium-Item again called for candidates in this City election to provide more detail about the specific changes and tasks we will take on if elected to improve City finances and the community as a whole.
I feel confident that in my own campaign I've provided a thorough look at how I would approach my role as a member of City Council. I've posted a consolidated list of my views on a number of issues facing the community, I've continued to post updates and more thorough commentary on the topics that have emerged in this election, and part of my history in this community as a volunteer is some extensive writings on my personal website about Richmond and our approach to governance and community building.
Last night was the second scheduled event during the general election cycle when candidates for an at-large position on City Council got together to answer questions from people in the community about issues facing Richmond. More so than the Chamber-sponsored debates last week, I thought the questions posed by attendees revealed a lot about what's on the hearts and minds of members of our community.
We were asked about education, access to affordable housing, how to pay for proposed improvements in City government, the local Latino population, the community's relationship with its workers, what we can do to keep more college graduates here, whether Council members should be injecting themselves into private business decisions, and more.
But I think the one question that was probably most piercing for all of us was from Toivo Asheeke, who asked what we as Council members would do to restore a sense of hope and empowerment to people who live in Richmond. It's a huge, important, emotional question, and as Toivo was quoted as saying in today's Palladium-Item, our answers as candidates were indeed "insufficient."
As candidates running for one seat on a 9-seat local legislative body in a small city in the Midwestern U.S., it might be tempting to shrug off the call to play a role in restoring hope and empowerment in our citizens. And politicians should rightly be careful to make promises they can't keep - if you believed the statements that sometimes came out of President Obama's election campaign, for example, as soon as he was sworn in there was going to be so much hope and empowerment flowing in the streets we'd choke on it; how's that working out for us?
But I do think restoring hope and a sense of empowerment is something City Council can impact here in Richmond, and that's what I said last night:
As complex human beings, it can be hard to communicate all that we stand for and all that we've experienced in casual social interactions. "Hi, I'm Chris, let me tell you about the past 34 years of my life in the next 2 minutes...." When it goes beyond communicating to trying to persuade someone of something - that they should vote for you, for example - it can be even harder to efficiently sum up what you're about in meaningful, authentic ways.
This is surely part of the utility, then, of having political parties: "Democrat," "Republican" and "Libertarian" (to name a few) are labels that help us identify a set of beliefs and values that a particular candidate might stand for and bring to their approach to governance.
But in recent years, the wordsmiths of the political machine have diluted many of these labels, and candidates and politicians who say they stand for one thing and then do other things have further made those labels less meaningful to voters. And just because we have labels to help us, we can't forfeit our responsibility to truly understand what a candidate stands for and how they would represent us.
It's unfortunate that the act of finding or creating a job for someone has become a form of political currency. Politicians around the country are clamoring about how many jobs they created with this program or that program, or boasting about how their job creation (or job loss) record compares to someone else's for a given time period, while many rightly ask if politicians can really even create jobs (answer: probably not). When we set aside the political rhetoric, we remember that for most people, a job is not a statistic to be waved around in the media and that finding or creating a job is not the end of the story.
For most people, having a job is a means to other ends - making money to help provide for our families, a place where we go to be productive and feel a sense of accomplishment, a foundation on which to build a quality of life. Most people don't want to live so they can work - they work so they can live. And so it's disconcerting when politicians casually talk about job creation as the end in itself, without any concern for or follow-up on what that means for the people in a given community taking those jobs.
The Times of Northwest Indiana published an editorial at the end of August, reprinted in today's Palladium-Item, noting the importance of screening candidates for office on their views about public access laws. Since increasing the transparency and accessibility of the work done by Richmond's City Council is a primary part of my own interest in serving on Council, I appreciate this emphasis.
In the editorial, five questions were posed as suggestions for citizens to ask of candidates, with the imperative that "andidates who seem to lean toward secrecy should be rejected."
I'm posting my answers below, and I hope my fellow candidates will also make their views publicly known during the campaign.
There are all sorts of ways the electoral process isn't optimized, either in making it more difficult than is necessary for voters to conveniently and clearly express their vote, or in making it more difficult than is necessary for some kinds of candidates to have a fair and equitable chance of receiving those votes.
We certainly don't need to be adding new ways to complicate the process or confuse voters, which is why Chris Hardie supports a recent legal challenge, initiated locally in Richmond by a number candidates and voters, to the recently amended Indiana Code 3-10-6-7.5 which says that you can't hold an election for an office when a candidate is unopposed. As noted in recent articles in the Palladium-Item and in today's article, the challenge hopes to undo this bit of legislative hand-tying before the ballots are printed for upcoming Richmond city election.
Here's the full statement Chris's campaign released to the media earlier this week:
In the Spring, I mentioned here that I was running for political office as a candidate for Richmond City Council here in Richmond, Indiana - my first real venture into politics. I never did post an update on this blog that I won the Primary Election held in May (YAY!), and so now I'm on the ballot for consideration in the November general election.
Despite having lots of overlap in subject matter between my political efforts and my writings here, I will generally continue to keep my campaign-related news and updates on my ChrisOnCouncil.com website (BOOKMARK IT), and on my campaign Facebook page (LIKE IT) and Twitter account (FOLLOW IT). But, I thought I'd give you a taste of some of the material my campaign is creating as we get back into that season.
It's been an interesting experience to watch the 2012 budgeting process for the City of Richmond, being performed by the very City Council that I aspire to join. If I'm elected, I'll be a part of a city government that is operating under the budget that's now being considered, so it feels even more important than usual to understand how the City is deciding where and how to spend money.
As I watched various department heads present their requested budgets for the upcoming year, I observed a few things:
It's been taken as a given that there will be no changes in compensation for any city staff. I'm not sure if this happens because it's made clear at the outset that requests for compensation increases will be rejected, or because the staff already know that to be true, but it's got to be a challenging experience for city workers who know that cost of living is increasing and their own pay is staying level. I know that when the citizens of a community are feeling limited in their own financial situation, it can be an easy target to claim that this person or that person in government is making too much money, and I'm sure in some cases, those claims might be true. But I would also hope that as a community we can recognize the value of having our city run by professionals who are compensated fairly and equitably for their work. Continue reading "On the 2012 City Budget Process"→
All elections matter in one way or another. Every elected official, no matter how unglamorous their office might seem or how routine their work is, has an impact on the lives of citizens in their communities. The City of Richmond has had many elections before and will have many to come, and they will all matter in some way.
But we can't let the shared pastime of grumbling about the machinations of politics and the wearing complexity of government trick us into forgetting that, right now, for the future of our city, this is the election that matters.
As I campaigned during the primary season and met with concerned voters, business owners and community leaders, and as I've observed the economic, social and cultural forces at work in our area, I've come to see that the next four years are going to be a critical time in the history of Richmond, Indiana: