While Lawrence residents are considering their New Year's resolutions, they might consider the upcoming campaigns for local school board and city commission seats.
Especially considering the contentious November election battle that spawned some deep political divisions across the nation, Lawrence and Douglas County should recommit themselves to a local election process that is both informative and respectful.
The filing deadline for those seeking election to the school board and Lawrence City Commission is Jan. 25. A couple of candidates already have announced their intention to run, and it seems likely the field will be large. It's great that so many people care enough about this community to commit the time to run for and serve in elected office.
Wouldn't it be great if 2005 was the year that local election labels fell by the wayside? Wouldn't it be nice if we had a whole group of candidates who stepped up because they wanted to examine issues from many different viewpoints and make decisions based on what was best for the whole community?
City Commission and school board candidates don't run under any party labels and they all represent the city and district as a whole, not a specific ward or area. That means their constituency is everyone, but various coalitions and supporting groups sometimes have injected an "us-against-them" flavor to our local elections. This should be the year we change that tone.
A couple of local efforts specifically are striving to make our local election process more accessible and respectful. In early December, about 40 people attended a Community Candidates School organized by the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce's Leadership Lawrence program. The goal of the one-day session was to share information about what people can expect when they run for office or organize a campaign. With a nominal fee of only $20, the event was designed not to be exclusive, but to be inclusive -- as the entire election process should be.
Another effort under way is the new Voter Education Coalition, which hopes to serve as an umbrella group to organize candidate and issue forums prior to the election. The Coalition is a diverse partnership of about a dozen different neighborhood and civic organizations and other groups that have previously been involved in sponsoring candidate events. The group hopes to join forces to sponsor forums that can involve candidates and voters in constructive discussion of issues that will affect the city and school district.
At the candidates' school, a speaker who promotes community-building, talked about a time, often in smaller communities, when leaders were chosen in a process that resembled natural selection. Through their leadership in a variety of areas, people rose to the top almost by consensus. They were simply recognized and accepted as people of stature who were highly ethical, people with whom others could entrust important community decisions.
The process, at least in a community as large as Lawrence is now, isn't always that natural these days, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't strive to elect well-qualified, well-motivated people to fill our important local offices. It's a task we should approach, as we would want the candidates to, with the welfare of the entire community in mind.