What motivates someone to file for political office? Is it a desire to give something back to the community? A feeling of wanting to make a difference? Perhaps a bit of ego? In many cases, the answer is all of the above. People want to help better their community, but the idea of having a political title like Senator or Commissioner is also extremely compelling.
This year, however, fewer people seemed to find a run at political office all that attractive. Several incumbents will run unopposed this fall, and the governor almost faced no major opposition. As it is, Democrat Joe Neal won’t be able to raise enough money to give Gov. Kenny Guinn much of a fight. It’s rather unique for assemblymen and senators to get free rides, or only token opposition. Much is at stake at this level of government, especially as we approach a legislative session in which discussion of taxes and state revenues will be so prominent.
So why are so many of these seats going uncontested this year? Is voter apathy rampant? Perhaps, but other possibilities seem to make a lot of sense. One theory being tossed about is that since the events of Sept. 11, people don’t want to change the government all that much. They are afraid for their jobs and want to keep experienced people at the helm. There’s certainly some logic to that. Recent polls on President George Bush’s popularity prove people aren’t concerned with the inner workings of their government. They just want to know things are being handled so their lives will not be directly affected by terrorism.
Another argument for the low turnout of potential political challengers this year is the increased scrutiny placed on public office holders by the press and especially by the Nevada Ethics Commission. What human in his or her right mind would be interested in a position where, even if you do a decent job, you can have phony ethics complaints made against you for anything by anyone? To make matters worse, the press will report the complaint as if you had just concealed the Watergate break-in. Couple the threat of fighting ethics charges (which can cost thousands in legal fees) with the fact that most of these offices pay very little, and what do you have? A job that won’t interest many people.
Coincidentally, the offices which have done an incredible job of drawing candidates are those for county clerk, recorder, treasurer and constable. Why are these elected positions so attractive? Because the salary is decent and they are far away from the spotlight of public scrutiny. If five people reading this column can even name what the recorder does, then this magazine must be well circulated at the county building.
We must once again get good people interested in seeking public office. That doesn’t mean we should allow less scrutiny of our local governments by the media and the various gadflies who are constantly looking over the shoulders of elected officials. But perhaps we should give the politicians the benefit of the doubt occasionally. Maybe they all really aren’t looking to line their pockets at the expense of the taxpayers. It’s possible that some of them really are just doing the job because they want to make this state better.
At least it’s something to consider.