Hubert Smith has effectively pointed out one of the major weaknesses of our political system in his Feb. 3 letter ["Break the Cycle"] asking for an end to our political stupidity. Money is the criteria for determining the political "winds" and is the "story" of the local campaigns. His concern that the money is more important than any other aspect of the campaign including especially the "issues" I believe is "spot on" and should be discussed at some length around the news desks of the local media as well as in the councils of the political parties and the civic groups around our county.
There is little discussion of any of the issues that are going to be affected by election of our political leaders at any level. The discussion centers around who raised how much money and who supports whom for what. Issues simply fall by the wayside.
Additionally there is little interest on the part of our media in the offices that affect policy substantially but have little "pizazz" on the money front! We are electing four members of the City Council this year and little is being said about any of those races yet. The mayor's race is only attracting real attention because of the fund-raising reports that were submitted on Feb. 1.
Campaign strategy for an astute candidate is to raise money early and "scare" off their potential opponents. Where is the discussion on issues in these races?
What is even more troubling is that the candidates for local elections simply cannot raise the money for their races that the statewide candidates are able to raise. That means the awareness of the campaign for local offices is much lower than it is for the state and national elections. The number of voters casting ballots in Knox County in the 2008 General Election (Presidential) was almost 189,000. Voters casting ballots in the statewide election in 2010 were almost 106,000. Voters casting ballots in the County General Election in 2010 were just over 68,000. Voters are not informed or excited about the issues in the local elections.
The election of the County Commission members in 2010 will have more impact more quickly on residents of Knox County than the election of either the Governor or President. The governor and presidential impacts are spread out over a much larger geographies as well as populations.
Why the lower turnout for the more important elections? Might I suggest that the interest of the media is in fund-raising (who is the recipient of campaign funds? The Media!) and it overwhelms their interest in any important issue. Because the local candidates cannot raise the amount of money to publicize their issues, the voters are not keenly aware of the election or the issues. Hubert, I believe you have highlighted the problem. Money is the only interest the media has in the campaigns and their coverage is for the campaigns that provide the most revenue to the media by way of advertising. So, the big advertisers get more media time when in fact the citizens need more help from the local media to raise awareness of the local elections and in particular the local issues.
I am not optimistic this will change any time soon and a minority of voters will continue to elect our local officials.
Douglas E. Veum