Woog's World / No pat downs or shake downs, just democracy at ground level
Published 8:20 am, Thursday, October 13, 2011
When Westporters enter the voting booth on Nov. 8, we won't be entering the voting booth.
Instead we'll walk into a little private spot -- the civic version of an office cubicle, or a TSA pat-down area.
We won't pull a lever, wondering if we did it right and our vote will really be counted.
Instead we'll fill in a bubble, just like for the SAT, and wonder if our vote will really be counted.
But some things never change, and the importance of voting is one of them.
Westport holds municipal elections this year. Though the selectmen are in the middle of four-year terms, there are many other reasons to head to the polls next month. Four of them are called the board of education, board of finance, planning and zoning commission and representative town meeting.
This is democracy at its best. Candidates are not foisted upon us through an arcane, money- and media-driven process. The men and women who run for local office are not caricatures of politicians, zealots who say the most outrageous thing they can to appeal to their party's "base," or flip-flopping flounders who say the most banal thing they can to appeal to some mythical "middle."
Our candidates are us. Our neighbors, friends -- they're the ones we'll vote for next month. They're the ones whose names we see on rotary and roadside signs. They're the ones who will stand in front of the polling places, shivering and smiling and sort of asking for our votes.
They do so for the right reasons. They're not in it for a salary, a book contract, a job later on as a TV pundit. There's no glory in being on the Board of Ed, no prestige to serving on the P&Z. Unlike Washington, where power leads to perks and privilege and (go figure) plenty of sex, "I'm on RTM!" is not the most compelling pickup line in the world.
The men and women running for local office simply want Westport to be the best it can be. That means different things for different people. For some, it's a leaner education and/or town budget. For others, it's money allocated in different ways.
Some people want the P&Z to take a more active role; others, less. All have a vision for downtown -- though that vision varies widely, depending upon whose eyes are doing the watching.
Some people are motivated to run because they don't like the direction Westport is heading. Others run because they don't like the direction other candidates would head our town into.
Some people are spurred by the opportunity to make big, sweeping changes -- in education policy, budget priorities, zoning amendments or whatever. Others look to make incremental changes -- a tweak here, a tuck there.
Voters, too, have a variety of motives behind their choices. Some people tie Westport issues in with national ones. These folks, for example, believe our schools must keep No Child Left Behind in mind, in everything we do, Others believe we must carve out our own path, federal regulations be damned.
Some voters see the invisible hand of the global economy at work in every fiscal decision we make. Others say this area of the country is different; we can't make decisions based on what's going on Washington or London or the Mideast, because Westport is not those places.
All of those people are right.
They're not right in the sense of "right and wrong" -- after all, who can know the "right" answers to problems that have bedeviled the best and the brightest, around the world, for decades?
But they are right in the sense that they are standing up for what they believe. They are spending time and energy, and often their own money, for the chance to spend even more time and energy serving this town, to do what they can to make it better, in whatever way they think "better" means.
If elected, they will work hard. Meetings -- mostly at night -- are frequent, and frequently long. There's a mind-numbing amount of minutiae to mull over. There are reports to read, constituents to consult, tough issues to tackle, hard votes to take.
The work of local government takes place beyond the regular working day. It takes place outside of the family, and in place of relaxation.
No one thanks anyone for serving, or even for running for office.
And the pay is zero. Every moment of every board and RTM member's time is donated.
There are many ways to impact our town. Serving for free as an elected official is among the most important.
Keep that in mind on Nov. 8, as you fill in your bubbles in the privacy of the TSA pat-down cubicle -- er, voting booth.