Last Tuesday, the Mountain Home community had the unique chance to learn firsthand the goals and aspirations of 11 people running for seats in the primary elections coming up May 17. For the 100 or so people that attended the political forum, it was the perfect chance for them to present their questions and concerns to those they will choose as their next representatives at the county and state level.
It allowed these voters to get the answers straight from the source versus hearing it through the "grapevine."
The tone of this latest political gathering was distinctly different than similar gatherings I've attended in recent years. During those events, there were a few -- but very vocal -- critics in the audience who were rude and disrespectful to the candidates they didn't like.
In comparison, it was clear that people attending last week's forum were deeply concerned on many issues. However, they kept things civil and didn't let raw emotion take over.
About the only thing I would've liked to see last week was a lot more people filling all the empty seats in the lodge. Unless things change between now and the May primaries, I expect this was the only time all of these candidates will be present at the same time for this type of public gathering.
This is a shame because it's a civic duty for voters to do their due diligence and learn what they can about those they plan to support and, more important, why they want to support them. When no one bothers to do their homework, we end up with cases in which voters cast their ballots strictly on name association or select a candidate solely on their party affiliation.
This is why the political process tends to fail. In many cases, people have convinced themselves that they "need" to vote a certain way due to a candidate's political leaning or that their opponent doesn't fully support a specific issue.
I've lost count how many times I've heard people say they plan to vote for a specific candidate because they were either a Republican or Democrat. Being the suspicious person that I am sometimes, I'd like to see how people would actually vote if the ballots didn't have a "D" or "R" next to a candidate's name.
Every time we get complacent and vote "straight party ticket," our country ends up with the same people in office for 10 or 20 years -- sometimes longer. But before those elections, how many times were we up in arms demanding someone else fill that office?
If those same voters had bothered to do their research before they went to the polls, perhaps they would've made a more educated decision. Maybe then, we would see fewer "career candidates."
Before I go any further, I have to confess that I was one of those voters who committed this sin when I was much younger. Over time, I learned that I was part of the problem versus being part of the solution.
Once I started looking more closely at the candidates, I found I was willing to change my mind on who I wanted to support. Instead, I went to the polls voting with my conscious versus the typical "shooting from the hip" mentality.
When it comes to the candidates for our upcoming primaries, the best piece of advice I have to offer is read up on what they support. Most important, take anything folks post on social media sites with a huge grain of salt.
We've seen too many instances in recent years where raw emotion tends to play out on Facebook and other venues. How many times have we seen people with a "bone to pick" with a candidate post something they will claim is fact, regardless if what they write is even accurate or based on a rumor someone heard second or third hand?
I've lost count of how many of my far-left and far-right leaning friends will share stories on Facebook that smear a candidate from the opposing political party. I just wonder how much of those stories are even close to being true and which ones are simply made up.
I find the best way to get the most reliable information is speaking with the candidates themselves when possible. When I can't do that, I like to read up on what they actually support and why they hold those beliefs.
For those already in office, it's pretty easy to check their voting record. That information is usually available online for the public to review.
Another piece of advice I'd like to offer is for people to go into an election with an open mind.
Too often, I've seen instances where people have already decided to vote one way or another, and nothing their candidate says or does changes the person's mind. They've allowed themselves to be swayed by juicy rumors and gossip without bothering to check to see if any of it is even true.
Meanwhile, I hope there are far more people that take time out of their schedule to actually vote in these races next month and again during the November general elections.
When I first joined the newspaper nearly seven years ago, one of the first major stories I covered involved a trustee seat on the local school board that ended in a tie. It took the toss of a coin to decide the outcome of that race.
I still remember all of the angry comments posted online afterward in which people were furious that fate decided the outcome of that election. However, when you have just 88 people actually turn out and vote, it meant that so many others failed to perform their civic duty and cast a ballot.
Simply put, it was their fault. Had there been more voters in that race, I seriously doubt it would've ended in a tie.
According to the Elmore County elections office, there are nearly 9,466 registered voters in the county. I just hope most of them choose to vote this time around. If they don't, they don't have a right to complain, do they?
-- Brian S. Orban