COLUMBIA — As you may have noticed, we have another election coming up Tuesday. The only prediction I’ll venture is that most of us won’t bother to vote. That’s OK with me. After years of bemoaning low turnout and urging participation, I’ve come to think that anyone who hasn’t taken the time to learn about the issues and candidates does the democracy a favor by staying home.
Missourian readers, of course, are a civic-minded bunch. For you, here’s my slightly off-center take on a quiet campaign that offers several difficult choices.
Let’s begin in the Fifth Ward, where Helen Anthony and Glen Ehrhardt have generated more heat and spent more money than the other races combined. Both, as far as I can tell, are smart, sincere and well qualified. Both are attorneys.
If you read the profiles and even the Q-and-A in Wednesday’s paper, you might have trouble distinguishing their positions. That’s why it’s important to look at who’s supporting them. The Columbia Daily Tribune reported Tuesday that Ms. Anthony’s campaign donations have come mainly from retirees and medical people. Mr. Ehrhardt is backed by the big developers and the Chamber of Commerce. His campaign treasurer filled the same role last year for Mayor Bob McDavid. Mr. Ehrhardt himself was deeply involved in the mean-spirited campaign that knocked Karl Skala off the council in that same election.
There’s nothing improper or unethical in any of that. If you supported Laura Nauser, the outgoing Fifth Ward councilperson, you’ll probably want to back Mr. Ehrhardt. However, if — like me — you think the developers and the Chamber are already sufficiently represented on our City Council, Ms. Anthony is your candidate.
She has been a strong and thoughtful voice for controlled growth in her service on the Planning and Zoning Commission. She promises to carry that approach to the council.
The choice is less clear in the First Ward. At least, that’s the way it seems to me. If I lived in that ward, I could happily support either Fred Schmidt or Pam Forbes. Their backgrounds couldn’t be more different. He’s a CPA with degrees from elite institutions. She’s a toolmaker who raised a daughter on her own. But both evince understanding of the ward’s deep-seated problems and commitment to addressing them.
For different reasons, I don’t take Darrell Foster or Mitch Richards quite as seriously. Mr. Foster, an ex-con turned community activist, speaks usefully but narrowly for the African-American minority. Mr. Richards, a newcomer to town, has a libertarian-leaning, small-government philosophy that seems likely to get in the way of much-needed limits to development and enforcement of codes.
The School Board race presents even more difficult decisions. Six candidates seek three seats. Only Sara Dickson couldn’t get my vote. She describes herself as the Christian conservative candidate and says she seeks to represent nonparents. I want our schools governed by people with a personal stake in their success. And I don’t want anyone in a decision-making position who thinks creationism belongs in a science curriculum.
That leaves five. In the League of Women Voters forum I attended, Dave Raithel didn’t seem to take himself all that seriously as a candidate. I’ll follow his lead.
That leaves four. Both incumbents, Jonathan Sessions and Tom Rose, have served us well. I’m not sure, though, that Helen Wade and Liz Peterson wouldn’t serve us even better. The two outsiders have been, I think, the most impressive campaigners. I wish I could vote for all four.
We do get to vote, again, on the recurring issue of whether to pay our council members. The campaign in favor is being led by two establishmentarian advocates and backed by a cross-section of community grandees. They argue that it’s unfair to expect even the most civic-minded to pay the unavoidable costs of service from their own pockets. They suggest that the absence of a modest stipend discourages some from running.
The voters have heard and rejected those arguments several times before. The quality of council candidates is impressive. The theme of the silent opposition probably is that if it ain’t broke — and if the city nearly is — why fix it? Well, perhaps it’s time we did.
That leaves on the ballot two noncontroversial items. One is the friendly competition for Jerry Murrell’s seat on the Boone Hospital trustees. Challenger Jan Beckett would do a good job. So has Dr. Murrell.
I doubt anybody without an engineering degree truly understands Proposition 2, but even nonengineers can grasp the benefit of paying $1 million a year less for power generation.
See you at the polls, or maybe not.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.