For some time now, I’ve been kicking around the idea of running for Bermuda District Supervisor. Some of my friends have asked me, “Why would you do such a thing? All the phone calls, ribbon cuttings, meetings and dealing with the problems of the District without much time for working for a better future would be too much work.”
My response has been, if there’s somebody out there who will apply the democratic process, then I won’t have to worry about it. I can make more of an impact where I’m at now – promoting community and creating a sense of place in Chesterfield. As of today, no one has stepped up to the plate to oppose the incumbent, although they technically have until August to decide.
But last week I was put on the spot by another newspaper. Not a community newspaper such as the Village News but a county-wide newspaper that shouts 70,000 copies each week, although only distributed to the more affluent demographic, and treated like any other circular that hits your mailbox.
In an article/editorial in that other Chesterfield weekly, I was “outed” as considering a run for Bermuda supervisor. Some were quoted as to the ethics of making such a move. Although I felt I stood on ethically-solid ground, I contacted a journalism ethics advisor at a large newspaper association, who is also a professor at nationally recognized university. I told him when you watch local government as close as I do, you see the sort of underbelly of the process and the party machinations involved, and you can’t help but want to do something about it – say run for election.
I asked the advisor, just what are the ethics of such a move? As long as a candidate who also owns a newspaper takes a couple of steps back from the publication during the campaign and subsequent election, there isn’t an ethical issue. It’s all about perception, he said.
The most famous politician in Virginia, Harry F. Byrd, owned the Winchester Star, Harrisonburg Daily News-Record and several other newspapers in the Shenandoah Valley. His family still owns the newspapers to this day.
But there was more at work than just an article/editorial about a hyper-local newspaper man disenchanted with the change promised in the last election. This was about business. This was about a behemoth weekly, which has news coming primarily out of Midlothian and the courthouse, working to take out a smaller competitor.
You would have to wonder why the article ties the Village News circulation to an audit that’s four years old when the writer knows quite well that our current circulation is 12,000, soon to be 15,000. You would have to wonder why the writer didn’t source all of his material, which is journalism 101.
The writer tries to tie me to Chesterfield’s Democratic Party. I am not a Democrat, have not been and will never be. I am an independent, have voted for Republicans, Democrats and Independents. The opinions in my column have been related to local issues not political parties, unless that political party has attempted to use its muscle to push its agenda.
I believe that there should be no political parties involved in local politics, just as is mandated for the Chesterfield School Board.
The Village News works hard to present balanced content. Republican Congressman Randy Forbes is a regular contributor, and Tea Party, or at least far right, columnist Robert Owens Ph.D. has a bi-monthy column on page six.
Why tie me to the Democratic Party? Because they are often, in this county, perceived as anti-business. The underlying concept of the article/editorial is that the Republicans are the business folks and anyone else must be one of those other people. The agenda of the piece is really about convincing businesses that the Village News is anti-business when nothing could be further from the truth.
We have run more business stories than any weekly newspaper in the area – business openings, special anniversaries, accomplishments and so on. We are members of the Chester Business Association (Business of the Year 2009) and the Chesterfield Chamber (Presidents Award 2004.) Does that sound like antibusiness to you?
For me, considering a run for District Supervisor is all about equity and the democratic process. I find it disturbing that once someone is elected and becomes the incumbent, they seem to think they have a lifelong right to that office. And some elected officials get aggravated when someone opposes them. Spending 12, 16 or 20 years as an elected official, especially when unopposed for most of their career, is autocratic.
When voters allow for a career politician to become imbedded, that politician can be less effective. “Some feel that fear of ‘rocking the boat’ leads to a stagnant political climate, in which it becomes hard to address injustices and create change,” writes Susan Welch in “Understanding American Government.”
There should be a choice of candidates in every race, no matter who they are or what office they hold. That’s the problem in Washington and Richmond today, politicians who have been there too long and have gotten tied to special interests so they can raise money for their next campaign. And, it works the same locally. Someone needs to step up, but it probably won’t be me.