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Archive for Saturday, April 1, 1995

SATURDAY COLUMN

April 1, 1995

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Year after year, election after election, the public is urged to exercise its privilege to take part in free and open elections.

Nearly every possible reason is advanced about why it is important for citizens to vote. Statistics are noted to illustrate the low percentage of Americans who voted compared with voter turnout percentages in other nations.

Others, trying to encourage good voter turnout, point to the many countries around the world where citizens are not allowed to participate in open elections and how citizen apathy can and does lead to greater government control of the lives of individuals.

Lawrence and area voters will be going to the polls Tuesday to elect a number of city commissioners and school board members.

It is an important election because those chosen will play a significant role in how various governmental bodies operate in the years to come. Decisions made by those elected Tuesday will help determine tax rates, the city's growth or lack of growth, the types of schools provided for our children, the availability of water for future development and a wide and diverse range of other city and school matters.

Unfortunately, a growing number of citizens seem to think they don't have much voice in government or school affairs, so they don't think their vote can make much difference.

Those thinking along such lines should reflect on this past November's election, in which massive changes took place in congressional races throughout the country. Enough people were sufficiently outraged at what had been going on with 40 years of Democratic control of Congress that they made the effort to support candidates who pledged to bring about sound, constructive change. The result was a shocker to the entrenched Democrats, but the country now has a Congress composed of officeholders who realize they cannot ignore the wishes and interests of the majority of Americans.

Some try to belittle and make fun of the House GOP "Contract With America," but the fact is, there has been more meaningful legislation in the present session of the House of Representatives than in any session in recent history.

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  • On Tuesday, Lawrence voters will have the opportunity to elect three city commissioners -- three out of a five-person body that plays a critical role in the future growth and development of this community and the surrounding area. It is an important election because the new city commission will be setting the course for this city as it approaches and enters the 21st Century.

Some in Lawrence think the city can get by with wearing blinders to the growing competition of other cities. Those who are so complacent about Lawrence and its future, who think the city will grow and prosper just because it is Lawrence, who think the city is well-located and that it has all the advantages and assets needed to continue to be looked upon as an outstanding community, should note what has happened to enrollment at Kansas University the past few semesters.

KU had a smug attitude about its position as the "flagship" institution of the Big Eight Conference. Everything was all right, and there was no need to make changes to help the school become an even more attractive university. Other conference universities took advantage of this complacency, and they have done a far better job in attracting new students and keeping their truly outstanding high school graduates in their respective states instead of losing them to out-of-state schools.

Unfortunately, this was not the story with KU and the state of Kansas.

Some in Lawrence may think everything is ideal at the present time, but there is no room for complacency.

The city needs commissioners who are forward-looking and have records of accomplishment. The surest way never to offend anyone is to never do anything.

The city needs doers and dreamers, men and women who have strong convictions about what is right and what is wrong, who will not base everything on what is "politically correct." The city needs men and women who believe Lawrence has the opportunity for continued growth -- both in size and excellence -- and that narrow-minded, selfish interests are harmful to the future of Lawrence and the surrounding area.

The qualifications and past performance of those seeking positions on the commission should be given careful study and consideration by local voters. Likewise, the public should show its appreciation for these men and women and the many sacrifices they made as candidates by turning out in large numbers Tuesday. The most painful slap in the face to all candidates is a stay-at-home public that is too lazy to vote.

The same situations facing the city commission are present in the races for school board members. These men and women will play a significant role in the quality of our schools, the type of education children will receive, the type of teachers in the classrooms, the ability of this district and other area districts to attract new young teachers rather than to have tenure policies keep bright, talented, younger teachers from injecting their enthusiasm into the classroom.

Local school board members set policy for the district, and as with the city, there is no room for complacency. Just how good is the Lawrence school system? How does it measure up with other school districts in university cities? What about the future? And what are the fiscal philosophies of those serving on the school board? Do school board members want to devote more attention to the underachiever rather than to give equal attention to those who strive for excellence?

There are many tough questions facing school board members and those serving on the city commission, and how these matters are resolved will depend on what kind of people are elected Tuesday. Will there be dreamers and doers or will the commissions and boards be composed of those who are complacent and satisfied with how the city and district have been operating in past years?

It's all in the hands of the voters.

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