April's elections are history — culminating in exuberant expressions of joy from the winners and the expected moans of disappointment from the candidates who did not fare as well. Additionally, the normal, albeit sadly pointless, harvest of sour grapes was indeed bountiful.
Several of the candidates, along with their supporters, laid the blame on the level of money raised by the victors, and more than a few intimated that the offices were bought by special interests. The Columbia Chamber of Commerce was also on the receiving end of castigation for at least two reasons.
For the first time in history, the chamber endorsed candidates for mayor and Columbia City Council and supported an affirmative vote on Proposition 1 (downtown surveillance cameras). Opponents believed this an unfair encouragement by donation to those campaigns.
The second grievance against the chamber alleged secrecy or a lack of transparency in the endorsement process. The endorsements were the result of a January task force established to consider possible candidates to recommend in the April elections. The task force endorsed the eventual winners, but several complained that only six of the chamber's 1,100-plus members were involved in the chamber's ultimate endorsement decisions.
To those who say an unfair infusion of money influenced the result, one has but to look at recent elections, national and state-wide as well. In the 2008 presidential campaign, President Barack Obama outspent Senator John McCain by a considerable margin — in television ads alone in the sixty days before November 1, 2.5 to 1. In the following week, Obama spent $23.6 million to McCain's $4.8, an advantage of nearly 5 to 1.
Looking to the 2008 Missouri Governor's race, Gov. Jay Nixon out-raised and out-spent Congressman Hulshof, while in Missouri's 24th District race, Chris Kelly defeated the incumbent Ed Robb. The aggregate raised by both candidates exceeded $426,000. I don't recall anyone complaining that the presidential, governor's or representative's races were bought and paid for by special interests; elections cost real money.
As for the Columbia Chamber of Commerce endorsing candidates, why is that a problem? The chamber has a vested interest, as do all of us, in growth and employment in the city. That is best accomplished by a posture attractive to prospective business ventures. The alleged unfairness of the chamber's limited membership participation is also a non-starter. Neither the AARP, of which I once was a member, the National Rifle Association nor the Marine Corps League finds it necessary to poll me before endorsing a candidate or a position.
In reality, the issue was not money, transparency, inclusion nor a product of special interests. Rather, it is a continuation of the current trend toward conservatism by voters in recent nationwide elections. In Columbia, whether right or wrong, the makeup of City Council was viewed by many as anti-business, or at least nonreceptive to venues other than rigid environmental or "green" growth ones — an attitude hardly conducive to business and job expansion.
Also, a number of the council's conceptual notions were less than well received by an increasing portion of the electorate. Without repetitive elaboration, I will cite a list of those perceived to be inappropriate, unnecessary or embarrassing. The first was the ham-handed, council-knows-best invoking of the no-smoking policy, followed by the establishment of the Citizens Police Review Board. The straws that broke the proverbial camel's back were the ill-advised bicycle harassment law, allowing chickens in the city and questioning the order of seating at council meetings.
Consequently, the voters have advocated a change in the direction of their government. Anyone who has resided here for a minimum of ten years and did not recognize the momentum for this transformation simply was not paying much attention to the electorate's mood. The good news is that the election was conducted in the orderly and untainted fashion expected of this representative republic and, if the electorate is not satisfied, the ins will be voted out.
The moral: never, ever take an electorate for granted. Rudyard Kipling said it best: "An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please; An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool — you bet that Tommy sees!"
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.