Democracy? Democracy means giving voters a choice. We don’t like to do that in Clermont County.
This November, we will be electing our city, village, and township officers. In eight of our fourteen townships, only one person is running for trustee. No township has a contested race for fiscal officer. Five of thirteen villages do not have a contested race for council. In over half of the villages, there is no contested race for Mayor. Remember that the candidate with the most votes wins. In an uncontested race, one vote is all it takes. Candidates don’t have to persuade anyone that she or he is the right person for the job so long as they vote for themselves.
Does it matter? To use just one example, Pierce Township, where the incumbent trustee and fiscal officer are running unopposed, had revenues for the first half of 2019 of over $ 4 million and expenditures over $ 3.5 million. That is a lot of money! (As an aside, I picked Pierce Township only because its finance reports are easy to find online. The same is not true for most of our townships.)
What happens when incumbents run unopposed? Let’s look at one example. Pat Manger served as Clermont County Engineer for roughly 17 years. He was not opposed any of the times he ran for that office. In its January 2019 report, the Ohio State Auditor’s Office found a long history of Manger using the staff and resources of the Engineer’s Office for personal and political purposes. Indeed, the Auditor’s investigators found that, once their investigation began, Manger told staff that they could not get into trouble for lying so long as they were not under oath. Is this really what we want from our government officials?
The primary check we have on our elected officials and the people working under them is the risk that they’ll be voted out of office. Manger is an example of what happens when that risk evaporates. Even if they are not dishonest, public officials have no incentive to do what the people want if they know that they can stay in office as long as they want Protests are nice, but officials have no incentive to change unless they risk being voted out. When no one else runs, they can’t be voted out. Moreover, voters given a ballot on which they have no choice get the message that their votes don’t matter, that the election is just a formality. Is it surprising how many people don’t vote?
So, why don’t the Democrats run more candidates? The answer to that is simple: we can’t force anyone to run. We spend a lot of effort trying to persuade people to run, but we can’t make that decision for someone. We need people to step up and take responsibility for improving things in our community. If everyone keeps waiting for someone else to step up, no one steps up.
Running for office isn’t easy but people who have done it, me included, have found it a very worthwhile experience even when we didn’t win. On a personal level, you meet a lot of new people as a candidate and you learn a lot about the place you live. More broadly, you are making voters think about the office you’re running for and you’re making the Republican candidate give reasons why she or he should hold that job. Campaign promises set a standard by which we can measure the person’s performance in office.
If enough of us run for office, we’re going to start winning. Winning one election makes it a lot easier to win others. Once people realize that a vote for a Democrat isn’t a “wasted vote,” more people will vote for our candidates. But we can’t start winning if we don’t have people running.
The time to file to run for local offices in 2019 is past but there are important offices on the ballot in 2020, including county engineer, two county commissioners, the county treasurer, the recorder, the sheriff, the prosecutor, the coroner, the clerk of common pleas court, and the two state representatives that represent Clermont County. The deadline to file to run for those offices December 18, 2019. The Clermont County Democratic Party and the Ohio Democratic Party can help you file to run and put together your campaign.
The local offices which I talked about at the beginning of this piece will be up for election again in 2021. Local races require much less fundraising and cover smaller territories. We need people to step up in both 2020 and 2021.
Raymond Lembke, Chair Clermont County Democratic Party