HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
June 11, 2007, Herald Journal

Elvis at city hall?

By IVAN RACONTEUR

If you are not careful, your next mayor could be an Elvis impersonator.

A story caught my eye last week which suggests that this is not as unlikely as it may sound.

Voters in Reus, Spain, a city of 100,000 near Barcelona, recently elected just such a person to the city council.

The successful candidate was Ariel Santamaria, a former postman.

He campaigned in Elvis regalia, and vowed to wear this same attire to council meetings.

In addition to his sartorial promises, his campaign platform included vows to turn the town square into a nudist pool, paint the city hall pink, and plant marijuana in city parks.

It seems likely that city council meetings in Reus will become a good deal more interesting in the near future.

Although this election took place in Spain, it is not all that different from elections in our local communities.

It is possible that voters in Reus liked the idea of a nudist pool and a pink city hall.

It is also conceivable that there were multiple candidates, and Santamaria benefitted from a split vote.

Another possibility, however, is that voters did not take his campaign seriously, and did not bother to get out and vote.

This last possibility is a familiar scenario, and, because of this, the same thing could happen here.

National elections get a lot of attention and generate much public debate.

Local elections, which can have a much more direct and immediate impact on citizens, are often overlooked.

The relatively small number of voters in local elections make each vote more significant.

Many people have never been to a city council meeting. Some do not even know who their city council members are.

Far too often, people do not take time to find out who candidates for local office are, what they believe, or what experience they may have.

As a result, it is not all that difficult for a buffoon to be elected to public office.

They don’t all wear bell bottoms and sequins, but there are some scary characters out there.

Representative government depends upon an informed electorate.

Far too many voters fail to meet this requirement.

Some rationalize their lack of involvement by saying they aren’t smart enough, or don’t know enough about it.

The problem with this kind of thinking is that it could result in someone who knows even less about what is going on being elected.

Other citizens are just plain apathetic, and don’t bother to pay attention, creating an environment in which tyrants and imbeciles thrive.

There have been many instances where a few or even a single vote decided the outcome of an election.

Every vote does count, and it is in our best interest that every vote be based on good information and careful thought.

When this does not happen, we can end up with clowns running the show.

This is not a knock against all local mayors and council members, most of whom are dedicated and well-intentioned people.

It is a warning that if we don’t pay attention, there is no telling who will be elected.

Voting is not something that takes a few minutes of thought every four years.

It requires diligence, commitment, and participation.

This does not mean complaining about decisions that have been made. It means being a part of the decision-making process.

If we choose not to get involved, we can’t complain about the results, and we deserve whatever we get.

And, if we make the decision not to get involved, we should also be prepared to put up with skinny-dipping in front of our pink city hall, and elected officials who look like caricatures of dead pop stars.

The council meetings might be more entertaining, but the consequences might not be funny at all.