You have a chance to change the face of local government

Calling Thurston County armchair critics of local government: It’s time to prove you aren’t all talk.

Anyone who has ever grumbled about “those (insert favorite adjective) people down at (pick your local government body) who don’t know what they’re doing,” has an opportunity this week to right the ship. Set those people straight. Fix your local government.

Candidate filing week began Monday and closes Friday for 75 positions in our cities and towns, school boards, fire districts and commissions for parks and recreation and cemetery districts.

Communities are best served when voters can choose from several well-qualified candidates to choose from. Candidates should include critics as well as those who want to help and give back to their community.

This is an “off-year election,” meaning no federal or state offices are up for election. The focus this year is on local government that, for better or worse, often has a more direct and immediate impact on people’s lives.

These are the elected positions that set property tax rates and put bonds and levies before the voters. The people you elect this year will decide how many police officers or firefighters we employ to protect us and our property. They will determine planning and zoning regulations. They will decide bus routes and whether to enrich a school’s focus on academics with music, the arts and physical education.

We believe these off-year elections are the most important of all. The decisions waiting to be made by those who seek office this year will directly affect our quality of life, our homes, schools and neighborhoods.

So you would think every open position would have at least two, and up to three, four or five candidates vying for election. And you might expect a high percentage of registered voters to cast a ballot in the August primary or the November general election.

You should be wrong. Quite often only one person files for a position and wins by acclamation. It’s not unheard of that someone will file for a position at the last second simply because no one else did — not the best of reasons for seeking elected office.

Incumbents must be challenged to defend their records and convince voters they deserve re-election. Elections enable voters to validate current policy when more than one candidate, and set of ideals, is the ballot.

It’s a sad fact, too, that these local elections historically draw the lowest voter turnouts. No political party flush with money from wealthy donors will finance these campaigns, nor will television viewers suffer through endless candidate advertisements. The excitement of a presidential year will be missing, but a new city council member can have a critical and direct impact on our lives.

Running for office can be hard work and unforgiving. Some in the community will scrutinize, others criticize and some might even ostracize those brave enough to place their name on the ballot. For these reasons, we need to encourage and support candidates rather than discouraging them from participating.

We get the government we deserve — or elect. But first it starts with good, well-intended, well-qualified candidates to step forward.

Let’s start by encouraging each other to run for office.