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Manatee Politics: Want to Do More than Complain About Your Government? Run for Office!


The United States Marine Corps has a saying: We're looking for a few good men and women. Well Manatee County needs a few of their own. All of the civics classes in the world could never teach a person what they would learn once every facet of their life was in the hands of government decision makers, as it is when you join the military. Yet more of our life than we often realize is in the hands of our local government, and I think it's high time more folks consider taking a shot at public service.

Sometimes it seems like true public service has become something of an antiquated idea. There are people who want a career or many of the other perks that come with holding elected office, but the sort of selfless service which was once the hallmark of such endeavors too often seems absent. Just look at the decline in social organizations like Kiwanis, Moose, Elks and Eagles. Perhaps it was the large numbers of World War II, Korean War and Vietnam vets who were once the typical volunteers, perhaps it's our increasingly wired worlds; but there's no question that serving the community is not the same notion as it once was.

As that generation becomes older and passes away, there is a big void left not only in our community volunteer organizations, but also among our elected officials. This is a universal problem that's not specific to our community. While I believe we are blessed with more people than most communities can claim in terms of people who get involved, that service does not seem to have translated to what you would consider a vibrant slate of real citizens running for local offices.

Historically, it's been from these sort of volunteers that leaders in local government have been cultivated. As a former commissioner, I know too well that there are plenty of reasons for good people to stay away from even local political races. But by conceding public office largely to others, many of whom have very different intentions and motivations, the average citizen is all but giving up on the idea of representative government.

I'll admit, running for any office, even a seat on a condo board, is not for the faint of heart. Thick skin, determination, and a reality check on your sanity may be considered good prerequisites. But if citizens sit back and complain without taking an active part in the process, the outcomes in our community will not change. Simply showing up to vote isn't always enough. And if you're not quite ready for a spot on the ballot, there's always a candidate who needs volunteer help if they are going to stand up to special interests and run a grassroots campaign.

So if you are serious about making a run, where do you start? The supervisor of elections has most of the information you need and the staff is more than helpful in guiding you through the process. While it may look overwhelming at first glance, it is actually rather simple once you get a grasp of the procedures. There is a list of positions that are to be elected this year. Once you decide which position you qualify for and you want to start a campaign, just fill out a form and designate your treasurer and what bank you will use for depositing donations and paying for expenses. Then you need to gather petitions to get your name on the ballot, or pay a filing fee. There is a candidates guide that takes you through the other details of the process. The law requires reports to be filed and requirements on advertising that must be followed. Once again, if you have a question just ask one of the helpful people at the elections office.

For example, if you wanted to run for District 2 for County Commissioner, you have to collect only 299 valid signatures or pay $4,700.88. If you want to see who has already declared their candidacy for an office, there is a website link that has this information. You can click on the race or candidate and view their information reported. You will notice some have no opposition, and some offices even have open seats. Here is your chance to do more than complain and become part of the decision-making process.

Some positions pay rather well too. A county commissioner has annual benefits of over $100,000. Judges over $150,000. School Board members get paid $37,681. No one should depend on the money they get paid, since once in office, you may not be reelected, and getting reelected shouldn't be the primary concern of a public servant. The community is benefited by those who run for the purpose of insuring we have the best decisions made its behalf – not that they themselves have a secure paycheck.

There's no question that money drives politics and we have seen a developer takeover of many local seats. It can be daunting when one of the good old boys (or girls) has all of those development dollars lined up, but in today's age of technology, messaging can be both inexpensive and effective. Also, regardless of financial support, there's still no substitute for good old-fashioned door-to-door campaigning when it comes to local elections. There are races where money makes the difference, but also races where the people see through the phoney mailers and robo calls. County Commissioner Michael Gallen’s victory four years ago was an example of the developers' money betting on incumbent Gwen Brown. Gallen won, despite the mountains of money and vicious attack ads that were released against him. Brown recently announced her campaign for the seat she lost, joining two other challengers for a total of four people in this race – something we haven't seen in quite some time.

If you feel that passion, there is still time and plenty of seats open for you to consider. Who knows, you just might be able to make a difference, and no matter what, you'll know that you tried. Remember, when a person shares his time and talent in some type of service to our government, it makes us a better country, county and community.

Joe McClash is a 22-year veteran of the Manatee County Commission and the publisher of The Bradenton Times. He can be reached at publisher@thebradentontimes.com.








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