Over the years, Lawrence has been blessed to have hundreds of able, talented, civic-minded men and women serve as city commissioners, county commissioners and school board members.
They didn’t serve on these boards to enrich themselves but rather to “give back” to the community. These were individuals who had enjoyed and benefited from their years in Lawrence and thought the best way to show or express their appreciation would be to offer their services and talents to the city — with no strings attached.
Granted, times change and, as the saying goes, “We are not the children of our grandparents.” Today is a different generation with different values, different motives and different standards. Also different politics.
City, county and school board elections in Lawrence a generation or two ago might best have been described as “amateur politics,” while today’s model is more properly classified as “professional politics.”
Thirty or 40 years ago, candidates made the decision to seek office because they thought they could add something of benefit to the city, county or school board through their active participation and their skills, knowledge and experience in the community. They didn’t seek office to represent the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, Kansas University, a dissenting group, a political party, a neighborhood, “downtown” interests, a specific type of teaching or curriculum or a “growth” or “no-growth” philosophy. They wanted to do what was in the best interests of the entire community.
They were proud of Lawrence and proud of Kansas and wanted to help sustain the growth, excellence and livability of both the city and the state.
Times change, and local elections have become far more partisan and issue-based. Now, political action committees sometimes get involved with local political races, attracting increased campaign contributions from individuals or groups who want to champion a specific agenda and, in so doing, suggest that others seeking the same office do not share the same concerns.
Whether it’s good or bad, Lawrence has entered into a far more partisan, hard-ball political climate that divides the community and invites costly campaigns for office. Unfortunately, the days of good men and women running for office merely because they want to do something good for the city — and without any behind-the-scenes commitments — seem to be fading.
Sometimes, there’s a lot to be said for the “good old days.”