photo by Chris Coleman (iceman9294)
I both love and loathe democracy. Love it, because, as Churchill pointed out, its the worst possible system of government except for all of the others. And loathe it, because it’s hard work.
Choosing the top-of-the-ballot candidates isn’t hard: the airwaves and blogosphere are flooded with noise about the Minnesota governor’s race, and even the relatively safe DFL 5th district seat has generated some headlines because some Tea Party extremists don’t like Muslims. And the local state representatives are easy for me: I think of my state representative as the father of kids I know from after-school, park, and Cub Scouts activities, and I’ve seen my state senator enough times in the neighborhood that she’s familiar to me; I can’t say the same for either of their challengers.
But other elected positions–Water and Soil Conservation, School Board, and Three Rivers Parks–are hard ones to learn about. There’s not much information out there about the candidates, but these are potentially risky spots to overlook. Our beloved Michele Bachmann, for example, got her start in Stillwater school politics: these positions can be the springboard for scary candidates to bounce their way higher up the political ladder without the scrutiny that would stop them earlier in the process.
In trying to figure out who should get my vote tomorrow in some of these races, I’ve been relying on whatever endorsements I can find, on the assumption that an organization won’t endorse someone who might besmirch their name. And an endorsement from someone with whom I disagree can be as useful as an endorsement from a someone with whom I tend to be in consort.
In the latter category, a right-wing rant against Amber Collett, running for the Hennepin County Soil and Water board, clinched my vote: she has experience with Transit for Livable Communities and the TapMPLS water program, so she gets my nod.
For the other Soil and Water seat, I couldn’t find nearly as much information. Stephanie Zvan endorses David Rickert, though not resoundingly (she notes only that he has more experience than the others who are running). But she’s picked most of the top-of-the-ballot names I plan to vote for, so I’m reasonably sure that Rickert isn’t a nutcase, so I’ll probably vote for him. (Faint praise, no?)
The Three Rivers Park seat is a tougher one for me. The incumbent, Mark Haggerty, made some news last spring when he opposed the park district’s plan to stop selling bottled water:
I don’t like government and I don’t like being told what to do. I don’t think we should stop selling plastic bottled water until we have an alternative.
Putting aside for a moment the wisdom of the bottle ban (and I do think it’s wise: there are lots of reasons that bottled water is a bad idea): “I don’t like government”? WTF?
If you “don’t like government,” what are you doing in government? This attitude puts me in mind of Thomas Frank’s The Wrecking Crew, in which anti-government ideologues make their arguments against good government into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Add to that the fact that Mr. Haggerty’s campaign domain redirects to his law firm’s web site, and this has all the hallmarks of someone who’s against the whole idea of public parks running for a spot on the public park board.
And yet he has the endorsement of the AFL-CIO, many of the other board members, and DFL Rep. Sandra Peterson, playing havoc with my candidate-selection strategies. His opponent, Joan Peters, has no endorsements and no web presence; she’s a board member of the Conservation Corps, which is a point in her favor for me, but I haven’t found much else about her. What to do?
I think in this case I’m going with Joan Peters: there’s just barely enough information about her to convince me that she’s not a crackpot, and there are just enough indicators that Haggerty’s approach to the philosophy of the county parks isn’t entirely consistent with mine. I could, of course, be wrong on both counts and live to regret my choice; if so, I’ll just add it to the bitter lessons taught by the worst system of government except for all the rest.