Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Election Night 2009

It's morning in Independence.

Local elections were held in Independence today. I had spent the past few months working diligently for two of the four candidates vying for two open seats on the Independence City Council. My blog mentor, Charlie Leck, a long time resident of Independence had recruited me and I relished the opportunity to work with him to achieve some good for our community.

The election should have been a cakewalk. My primary focus of support was a long time member and former chair of the planning commission, a cub scout leader, a financial advisor, and a neighborhood community leader. The other candidate we worked for was an incumbent with a thoughtful voting record and a long history of community service. This being a small town in Garrison Keillor's back yard, she is also the choir director at church and teaches piano.

Our two opponents, on the other hand, were not of the Jimmy Stewart genre. One was an incumbent who was prone to throwing temper tantrums at City Council meetings, accusing the mayor and the police department of various conspiracies to undermine his libertarian rights. Through the magic of videos of Council meetings posted on the Independence website, you could actually watch this public servant use language in public forums that, to quote Professor H. Higgins, "would make a sailor blush."

The incumbent's running mate is a free spirit, with a history of engaging in whatever behavior suited his purpose without regard to the laws and regulations that most of us choose to observe. When he owned a lawn service company, he saved a buck by disposing of hazardous chemicals in the wetlands on his property, not caring that they were flowing into the adjacent stream that served as the source of drinking water for his neighbor's livestock, killing them. He moved and asked the City for a conditional use permit to build a barn on his property for the private use of his family. Upon acquiring the permit, he immediately built a large commercial facility and advertised for boarders. When the City tried to stop him from violating the terms of the C.U.P. he applied for, he sued the City. The matter was settled out of court and sealed.

Unfortunately, the election contest was not a cakewalk. My candidates' opponents refused to attend a candidates forum hosted by the League of Women voters, resulting in its cancellation. The opponents spread falsehoods about my candidates, accusing them of everything from wanting to take property without compensation in order to build nature trails throughout the City to wanting to ban all hunting in Independence. As a Jewish kid, I wouldn't really care about the latter but, apparently, it is a big deal to many Independence residents.

Neither of the accusations were true, but truth was not an obstacle to my candidates' opponents.

They circulated an old map developed by an Open Spaces Commission that had looked at ways of preserving the rural nature of Independence notwithstanding its proximity to Minneapolis. The map showed trails which the opponents pointed to as proof of the intent to engage in uncompensated taking. The truth was that the trails were labeled "natural", not "nature", trails and identified existing wildlife migratory patterns.

The cow killer, consistently with his "I'll do what I want" mentality, put out lawn signs and circulated postcards that bore the logo of the Republican Party, even though the race was non-partisan and even though he had neither an endorsement nor permission to utilize the GOP trademark.

Both opponent candidates also promoted reducing the City's budget by disbanding our local police force and contracting with the County Sheriff for police services. Although couched as a demonstration of fiscal conservative-ism, it was really payback for perceived slights. And it turned out to be the opponents' Achilles' Heel.

Without a vigorous local press to shed a light on the nonsense being foisted upon the Independence electorate, we needed to find an issue that energized our supporters, swelled our ranks and got out the vote. The proposed replacement of the police force provided us with that issue.

These days, every candidate running has to promise lower taxes, an improved quality of life and responsiveness to the electorate. Most voters in an off-year election don't give a rat's patootie which candidate prevails on those issues. They've heard it all before. But mess with their public safety and it's a different story.

During the last few days of the campaign, I instructed volunteers who were out knocking on doors asking for support or telephoning to get out the vote to focus on one issue: If we don't elect our candidates, the City Council will vote next year to contract with the Hennepin County Sheriff and close down the local police department. Not voting for our candidates or not voting at all was a vote to dismantle our police force.

THAT threat did the job. The election judges told me this morning that they had been told to expect 250 voters in today's election, representing about 10% of eligible voters. In fact, there were more than 1,030. When the counting was done, my primary candidate had received 698 votes and the incumbent I was supporting received 630. The paranoid libertarian incumbent received about 350 votes. The cow killer received 303 votes.

Folks in the community, once informed of the threats to their public safety that would result from failing to elect my candidates, came out in force and gave us a landslide. In so doing, I believe the electorate also sent a message about what kind of campaign is acceptable in Independence.

So, fortified by large quantities of adrenalin and celebratory rum at the local tavern, I thought it was time to return to my prairie pondering and share the lesson of persistence and reliance on the common sense of voters that manifested itself in God's country today. It feels good to be back.

1 comment:

Charles Leck said...

Welcome back to the land of blogging! What's it been -- two months or so since your last blog? Does Sam still think he can? Too bad, you write damned well and you've got interesting things to say. Don't give me that "I'm too busy" crap either. I know better. And, if you're so busy, close 'er down and leave blogging to the big kids.
Congrats on your big political victory in the big city of Independence.