Elections in Grandview Heights are similar to those in other cities. New candidates will make claims that change is needed, those who are trying to hold a seat will boast about the actions they took to deliver services to the voters. We have a big difference from other cities in Franklin County however, no other city is as small and has such easy contact between the voters and the office holders, and office seekers. They are quite likely to be the person living down the street from you.
How should we act when we meet a candidate on the way out to set our trash on the curb? What is appropriate to say to a council or board member when you bump into them at the grocery? Democracy works because our elected officials must respond to the voice of the voters, but they have a life outside of the office they hold. The line between private and public is not clear. This is my take on the issue.
Ask permission to engage in politics
The first words out of your mouth when you meet an office holder or candidate should be “Excuse me Mr or Ms (politician name), can we talk for a minute about this issue?”. They might say “Sorry, I have to get something done here, can we talk later?” and that should be the end of the conversation.
You should hold the candidate to their word, and ask for a time to call, or send an email to them. But you can’t expect a politician to be on your schedule. They might take a few days to get back, that is OK.
Email is the better option
Some people just feel better pinning a person down and having a face to face conversation. Some people like phone calls. The problem with both of these is that the words you exchange will disappear into the ether after the talking is done, with no record or ability to hold the candidate to the words they spoke. You could tape the conversation with the politician, it is legal in Ohio to record anyone as long as one party knows the recording is being done. But you will only have a recording of a voice, and it is hard to share the record of that conversation. When politicians say controversial things, they often later insist that they were not clear on the question, or speaking off the record, or drunk at the time.
Email is written communication that allows both parties to say exactly what they intend. Politicians can’t say “You are asking gotcha questions!” when emailed, they can take the time they need to research and give the best answer to any question.
Emails should be courteous but to the point. Some people though are angry at the actions of the politician, when their child is affected by action of the school board, or they lose property value because of the votes of the council, they can sent some bitter and angry emails. As long as the email doesn’t contain a direct threat to harm the office holder, they still need to reply. This is the “heat in the kitchen” and if the office holder doesn’t like it, the exit is always open.
A politician may chose to simply ignore your email, and never reply. There are some current school board members who do that, and they have a long tradition of acting like they can trash emails at their whim on the board. If I had my way in a better political system, I would make refusal to answer emails an offense that leads to removal from office. Here in the real world, they get away with it.
The family of the politician
You might find yourself sitting next to the spouse of a politician at the ball game for your kids. Is it also OK to ask them to discuss the political issues their husband or wife is involved in?
I don’t think there is any good reason to ever ask the family of a candidate or office holder to comment on their relative’s political stances. The person who runs for office is the one who asked to be a politician, their family didn’t run.
The spouse of a office holder should not be acting as a political arm of the candidate. This is especially hard for the husbands of office holders, they are used to acting as the “white knight” to defend their spouse against all insults. They can get offended if their wife shares an angry email from a voter, and want to speak up in defense. They should shut up and sit on their hands. They were not elected, their spouses took the office, and all the heat that is generated. Again, direct threats of violence are out of bounds, and the office holder may contact the police if they feel they are threatened. But this is still not the business of the spouse, they were not elected.
Stand up and work for your politician
The more people who take an interest in local politics, the better. We need an informed and engaged public, who are not cynical about politicians and the government. Actively seek out the candidates in the upcoming election, and support those who are better for the city and schools. Hand out fliers, post yard signs, and sign support letters. If your candidate loses, take it as a message to do better next time, not a call to shut up and go away.