I jokingly refer to myself as a political agnostic. Blame it on my years living in the DC Metro area, if you like. Until I landed at The Evening Sun, Iíd always done a fairly good job of avoiding discussions of a political nature. Actually, I considered it as something of a highly-honed skill, which involved keeping a sincere(ish) smile and look of interest plastered on my face while I hummed Broadway show tunes in my head.
Iíve found, over time and the further I am from the Beltway, Iím not quite as shy about expressing my opinions. (And letís face it, politics provides such excellent blog and column fodder.) I feel a lot freer talking about my frustrations with politics and our political system in general.
Iíd like to think that Iím not the only one frustrated. I mean, surely others are bothered by the way ďpoliticsĒ gets completely in the way of our leaders actually leading. Donít the cogs of government move slowly enough on their own, without politics gumming up the wheels even more?
The problem, I think, is that politics is a corrupter. It corrodes even those who initially run for office with the noblest of intentions and purest of hearts. Once they are actually elected, the focus shifts to staying in office. Not to mention the wheeling, dealing and political brokering required to get anything done. Ugh, and donít get me started on the pandering. Or the schtupping of interns.
As a result, the hopes, dreams and fears of their constituents, which were of such paramount importance during the campaign, are relegated to the back burner. And some times it feels like they only stay on the stove at all so they can be stirred up again come re-election time.
I know, I know. Iím a little jaded. You live inside the Beltway for a few year and see how you feel.
There are exceptions, Iím sure. And in the last year Iíve even met one or even two of them. But theyíre not on the national level. Theyíre state and local politicians Ė who are no doubt subject to the same forces and pressures as their federal counterparts, so those who stay true to their constituents still deserve commendation, in my opinion.
Itís only been in the last year that Iíve gotten a taste of this more local version of politics. And itís been eye-opening Ė particularly the last two weeks as Iíve tried to cover the political races in the eight Chenango townships that lie in my coverage area.
Last year, the presidential election grabbed all the headlines, and there wasnít much happening on the local front. This year, itís another story entirely. Itís as though Chenango County has been hit by a political maelstrom.
In some areas, people are coming out of the woodwork to run for any and every position. Heated contests are popping up in places I would have thought unlikely Ė such as in Coventry, Guilford and Smithville. In Coventry alone, three candidates are running for supervisor, five for town council and two for highway superintendent. In Smithville, no less than seven candidates are running for three town council positions.
Itís not the volume of candidates, I find staggering, but who is running. I was stunned to discover how many incumbents have held their positions for more than a decade. Even more floored by the number who have been in office for 20 years or more.
Also interesting, in my opinion, are the number of people who are returning to politics. Iíve noticed a few former supervisors returning to the fray after lengthy hiatuses. (A word which is derived from the Latin haire, meaning ďto yawn,Ē by the way. Kind of cool, I thought.)
There are also plenty of newcomers; people who have never run for any office before but have recently discovered political aspirations. Or an axe to grind.
What surprises me in many of these races is how few people are actually actively campaigning for the positions they seek. Remember those seven people running in Smithville? Iíve only seen signs for or received mail from one. (Thatís where I live, by the way.) Havenít heard a peep from either of the two supervisor candidates. No one has won my vote yet.
Heck, even as I was making my calls to do interviews for the articles I was writing, I had a hard time getting people to return my calls, let alone answer my questions. (This was true across the board, not just in Smithville.) My particular favorite was the candidate who, the day following our interview, called to ask me not to use her comments at all.
So hereís me. After my indoctrination into local politics, still disenchanted with the process.
Follow me on Twitter ... @evesunmelissa.