August 8, 2019 9:32:38 AM
You hear the call all the time.
More women, more minorities, more people in general, need to become involved in public service -- whether that's running for office or seeking appointment to local boards and commissions. It's not a call for a certain person to win as much as it is a plea for options and participation.
This call has come regularly from these pages, as well as from so many other individuals and organizations in communities across the country. But so many times, it seems, we throw it out almost as a formality to inevitably be swallowed up by the vacuum of apathy.
In Columbus, though, people are starting to answer the call, and it's already making a difference.
Earlier this year, local real estate agent Dana McLean launched a campaign to unseat longtime District 39 State Rep. Jeff Smith that seemed ill-fated when just looking at the metrics. Smith touts 28 years in the House of Representatives, he is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and he carried endorsements from such figures as Gov. Phil Bryant. Oh, and he accumulated about $75,000 in campaign funds (mostly from political action committees), which was five times what McLean raised.
Still, on Tuesday, in a state where incumbency typically means everything, the hard-campaigning McLean won.
The old standby cop-outs of "Why bother running? The outcome is already decided." and "Everybody knows money wins elections" are -- at least sometimes -- just not true.
Now look at the Ward 4 Columbus council race. After sitting councilman Fred Jackson resigned mid-term, six candidates have thrown their hats in the ring; most of them are women.
Though we are greatly saddened by the sudden loss of Ward 1 Councilman Gene Taylor -- who represented his constituents with wisdom, patience and caring in his time on the council -- a special election to fill that vacancy creates another opportunity for citizens in that ward to serve.
Don't misunderstand: We're certainly not saying incumbents should never win. It's that competition tends to be better for democracy in the long run. Candidates running unopposed time after time can breed voter apathy.
Simply running for a seat can give an individual a greater understanding of how public service works. Perhaps most importantly, challengers help breed new generations of leaders.
We want to thank Rep. Smith for his service. His time in the Legislature has been invaluable, and the institutional knowledge we lose with his departure will be missed.
We also want to again challenge citizens to step forward the next time you see an opportunity to serve your community, whether it's an election, a non-profit board, volunteering or a city commission. The future isn't set in stone and your participation matters.
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