In just six short days, voters across Elmore County will head to the polls to cast their votes in a number of contested races.
I can't encourage people enough to get out and vote because it's not simply a right. It's also our duty and responsibility.
This election season seems to promise one of two possible outcomes -- maintaining the current course or steering the state in a new direction. That direction all comes down to you, the voter.
I've always felt it important for every voter to do more than head to the polls and fill in those small ovals on the ballot. This is how we often end up with the same people getting voted because we recognize the name or select individuals based solely on their party affiliation.
Instead, we should take the time to learn more about what each candidate stands for and, more important, why they support those issues. This allows us to make a more informed decision when we cast a vote because we've done our homework on who we feel will do the best job.
As the election season approached, the Mountain Home News went the extra mile by helping you with that decision-making process. We sent out questionnaires to each candidate running for contested seats at the county, state and federal level asking them to provide a simple "yes" or "no" response to these queries.
The idea was to give all of them equal ground on the questionnaire. As the newspaper saw in the past, if we gave a candidate an inch in the paper, they'd want to take a yard -- usually a lot more -- to respond.
While some candidates were often succinct in those previous candidate questionnaires, we had a few that wanted to "push the envelope" and gave us something equal to a small novel. That made it a lot harder for this newspaper to level the playing field, which is why we opted for the yes or no format this time around. If a candidate felt strongly about an issue, we encouraged them to use other avenues in the newspaper to address them, like paid election letters and other forms of advertising.
When the questionnaires were sent out, I was cautiously optimistic that everyone would respond. Having heard the candidates running for state and federal offices, I knew the Mountain Home News was just one of many media outlets in the state asking them similar questions, which is why we tried to make ours a fairly easy (read: fast) to answer.
Unfortunately, less than 50 percent of the candidates bothered to respond. A few that did respond either wanted to edit the questions or gave us an entire paragraph instead of providing a "yes" or "no."
Granted, the questions we asked were definitely geared to have each candidate think long and hard before they answered them. However, those questions represent a number of issues and concerns raised by you, the voter.
Sure, we could've asked whether a candidate supported legislation over birth control or whether they supported the military. But those are snowball questions, and the responses would pretty much fall in line with the respective political party's position.
We wanted to take things one step further. Case in point: Any candidate wanting to win the vote in Elmore County has to claim they support Mountain Home Air Force Base and the U.S. military. Saying anything contrary would be nothing short of "political suicide."
But where do those loyalties end? If they had a choice between helping Mountain Home Air Force Base or Gowen Field bed down a new mission, for example, which would they choose and, more important, why?
That's why this newspaper posed questions like this to our candidates. If anything, it helps those running for office to understand what Mountain Home and communities across Elmore County feel are the most important versus going with the typical dogmatic questions they want to answer instead.
I'd like to turn away from the candidates to address an issue of critical importance to those in the Mountain Home area. Also appearing on Tuesday's ballots is a request to extend a supplemental levy for the Mountain Home School District.
As I've mentioned before, the levy simply extends the one previously approved by voters. Simply put, it won't make your taxes go up, and you would continue to pay the same amount.
However, in return, students and parents in our school district will see something that should take a huge burden off their shoulders. If approved, this newest levy will eliminate the fees students have paid for various programs, including those at the high school.
Our school district wants to take a proactive stance on the school fee issue after two court decisions ruled that those fees were unconstitutional. They were going to have to eliminate those fees anyway, but this levy will help the district accelerate those plans significantly.
There really isn't any alternative to passing this levy because it directly impacts the children of this community, who represent our future. Voting against the levy isn't going to help them or make things better in any way -- unless you think even more crowded classrooms and fewer programs is a good thing.
It used to be that the number of students in each classrooms were small enough to allow more student-to-teacher contact every day. Today, teachers are struggling with overcrowded classes and little or no additional support to help those struggling with their studies.
When the state legislature chose not to fund schools adequately, it threw the burden to do so onto the backs of us -- the tax payers. No one said it was fair, but it's up to us to act like responsible citizens and take up that burden.
As Tuesday approaches, I sincerely hope you take time to vote for the future of our communities, our county and our state. The United States represents the greatest democracy the world has ever seen. However, voter turnout is often abysmally low. Democracy works when you participate in it, and it fails when people don't bother to perform their patriotic duty.
-- Brian S. Orban