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Our Views: An election year wish list

Campaigns of substance with honest, genuine candidates; would that be too much to ask?

POSTED: January 5, 2014 1:00 a.m.

Our new year 2014 ends in an even number, which in modern-day America means two things: Olympics and elections.
First come the Winter Games, beginning Feb. 7 in Sochi, Russia, with the world’s best skaters and skiers sliding and schussing over snow and ice for 14 days.

Soon after the torch goes out in that Black Sea town, the real bloodsport will begin here as candidates begin jostling for seats in Congress and state and county offices.

Georgians are looking at a busy year at the polls. As of now, the federal primary for congressional seats is set for May 20, including the contested race for the Senate seat held by retiring Republican Saxby Chambliss. Five top GOP contenders are already running hard for their party’s nod to face a Democratic challenger in the fall.

In addition, all statewide offices are up this year, including the governor, lieutenant governor and all department heads, plus state legislature seats chosen every two years.

And the calendar is tighter this year. Because of a federal court ruling, Georgia was forced to move its federal primary to May 20 to allow more time between the primary and a potential runoff. The state primary remains penciled in for July 15, but that may be changed by the legislature to avoid having us make as many as four separate trips to the polls before the Nov. 4 general election.

We know we’re facing another long year of nasty attack ads, contentious debates and mudslinging campaigns, first among those in the same party, then across those lines in the fall. That biennial circular firing squad already has begun in the Senate race, with each GOP candidate attacking the others’ conservative bona fides.

But since it’s the new year and all is bright and fresh, we’d like to do a little wishful thinking and ponder what kind of campaigns we’d like to see instead. Here are a few suggestions of what we’d like candidates to do this year to make the election season more substantive and meaningful for all Georgians:

• Be yourself. For too long, we have watched otherwise dignified political leaders resort to childish, tacky pandering to win votes. Kissing babies, wearing funny hats and tasting local delicacies all follow time-honored tradition and are generally harmless. It’s when candidates constantly pretend to be “one of us” when we all know better that voters roll their eyes in disdain.

In years past, we had the spectacle of Al Gore declaring “I’m my own man” (Hint: Those who really are don’t have to say it) and having a consultant brood over the color of his ties to craft the proper image.

Two years ago, it was Mitt Romney declaring, “I like cars” and “the trees are the right height,” while schmoozing in Michigan. And it seems to be standard procedure to don flannel shirts and jeans when campaigning in rural areas, as if folks who live there are allergic to suits.

Forget the phony images. The attempt to be everything to everybody doesn’t determine a candidate’s fitness for office. If you’re a rich guy more accustomed to board rooms or courtrooms, don’t try to be Joe Plumber. Be proud of who you are, whatever that is.

• Be honest. Skeletons in the closet? Everyone has some. Better to get them out there, talk about them and find a way to move on. Americans are a forgiving people when leaders admit their shortcomings and make amends. Cover-ups and smoke screens only lead to distrust.

Part of that honesty means being willing to admit what you know and what you don’t. It’s not a sin to answer a question honestly by saying, “I’m not sure, but I’ll find out,” rather than shovel the malarkey around like a student trying to pad an essay question on an exam.

 Stay positive. Apparently, everyone’s primary opponent is a lowdown dirty snake who’d throw grandma out in the cold and steal her hard-earned cash. That is, until the primaries are done and they endorse each other, then go on to face the next lowdown dirty snake from the other side.

It would be refreshing, and more instructive to voters, if candidates focused on the relevant issues, their qualifications and their plans for the office. Trying to win by smearing the other guy is as old as politics itself, no doubt. But voters can be turned off by the constant negativity and often respond better to the candidate who can put a smiling face on his or her campaign.

• It’s about us, not you. Political leaders often forget they work for us, not the other way around. Their focus needs to be on topics that matter to their constituents: Jobs, schools, public safety, good roads, sensible tax policy. Pet issues that appeal to a tiny slice of the electorate or narrow special interests should be a side dish, not the main course. Stick to subjects that matter to the most people rather than cater only to the moneybags and the squeaky wheels.

Will any of this come to pass? History and reality suggest it will be a frosty day on July 15 when most campaigns are run in a positive, honest, substantive way. Yet we’ll hold out a bit of optimism that our elections will someday reflect the better aspects of our national character instead of the worst.

This year would be as good a time as any to start.


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