Thursday, March 8, 2012
Of Local Elections, Local Leadership...Local Engagement, Part Two
The question from Part One wasn't 'Do we need term-limits for our councillors?', but it was undeniably connected to that one: 'Why do incumbents almost always get re-elected?'
I think it's important to state here that I'm not talking about mayoral races. Those are an entirely different animal. But with that in mind, this: a) Councillors are not Mayors. What they do is far more nebulous. To my mind, they're not even 'mini-Mayors' of their wards. They're more...'managers'. Contributing to an overall city plan...while putting out fires for constituents, looking after concerns and complaints. This means that for a challenger at election time, there is less to frame a campaign around, short of pointing out an incompetent's poor performance. And unless we're talking some truly egregious follies, it's pretty hard for a councillor to screw things up that badly and lose the voters' confidence. (Unlike with a mayor.)
b) Again, unless you're dealing with an incompetent...in which case what I'm talking about isn't applicable...why would the electorate want to throw away four years' worth of experience to go with a complete rookie...unless you've got some shining star who's eminently qualified? And how often do they come along, anyway? (Can anyone name one currently serving in Hamilton?)
c) People just aren't qualified enough to 'interview' candidates for the job. So they really don't have a grasp of what they should be doing to either confirm their inclination to re-install the incumbent, or properly vet the challenger(s).
Alas, the lack of engagement attached to c) pervades everything having to do with the resident's role in local governance. Because consider once again that only about 40% of eligible voters do so, that almost two-thirds of these case ballots according to 'name recognition', and that in the main, people do not participate in what goes on at CIty Hall regarding their living of their lives. So how can we expect people who, for four years don't have a handle on their elected representative's performance, to be able to execute a task that requires the very abilities they lack?
(Clearly, we're assuming here that a challenger has either the talent or the potential-for-talent that surpasses that of the incumbent. And considering that the incumbent has at least four years' worth of on-the-job experience, this would have to be a magnificent package of talent indeed.)
Until we residents develop the chops to be able to discern competency, all other factors are moot. And I hate to think we need 'term limits' to compensate for this truth.
But for the sake of argument, let's examine the concept.
Next up: The merits of term limits