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Confessions of an Ex Bum

Bill Schaff served on the Alameda Unified School District Board from 2004 to 2008

Ready. Get set. Go. Yes, it is time again to vote for your local, state and national representatives. You know—the ones we keep getting pissed off at for doing "nothing." Most of you already have your mail-in ballots and many can hardly wait to vote "the bums" out.

Given that our nation, state and city seem to get more polarized each year, it is not surprising to see so much negative campaigning. After all, why bother actually discussing position statements and issues when you can get elected so much more easily by bad mouthing your opponents.  

Full disclosure: I was one of those elected local "bums." And therefore I feel the need to defend those who put their personal lives up for public scrutiny in the name of government service—usually unpaid at the local level.

Initially, many citizens who run for office sacrifice many of their personal hours campaigning and meeting with interested citizens just in the hopes of getting elected. Then, if elected, they have the privilege of spending almost all their free time working on behalf of the local citizenry trying to act in the collective best interest. This is usually on top of their normal day job.

Given today's environment, we know that there are very few issues where 100 percent of the electorate will agree. For example, the recent school parcel tax failed to pass by roughly 250 votes. Yet the measure received close to 66 percent of the actual vote—it needed 67 percent.

Does that mean the representatives who supported the measure do not represent the will of the people? In fact, they did represent the majority of the people who voted—just not a super majority that was required by law and of course not every single citizen.

Political decisions made by elected officials will likely be vilified by one—or many. Needless to say, the hardest decisions are generally the most unpopular, though they may indeed ultimately be the right thing to do. It is usually when making these sorts of decisions that most elected officials wonder why they ever bothered to run. 

Yes, it is true that some of our local officials run in the hopes that they can eventually make a career from politics, but most do it out of a strong moral sense of civic duty and wanting to help the community. In fact, many believe they can make a difference. And, believe it or not, some can.

I often hear people say, " I would never run for anything." The excuses are many. They don't have the time. They don't have the experience. It won't make a difference anyway. But it is exactly this attitude that prevents many qualified people from offering their services at a time that we desperately need our best and brightest. One or two people can make a difference, especially at the local level. But let me be clear, these volunteer jobs require more than a few spare hours a week and a thick skin. 

And people who run need our respect. We do NOT have to agree with their positions. However, we do have to honor their effort to try to work on our behalf. 

I hope that all citizens continue to fully appreciate their right to vote and also the ability to possibly run for office in order to "represent" their constituents.  I know that I considered it an honor but also one of the hardest "jobs" I ever held. To that end, I applaud all the citizens who have decided to run on behalf of the citizens of Alameda.  

But this does not let the voters off the hook. We, as voters, are still responsible for doing some due diligence on both the candidates and the issues. It is becoming increasingly important that we try to get beyond the 30 second sound bites in order to make better decisions. Remember, every candidate we elect will probably be with us for a minimum of four years and many propositions may be with us for the rest of our lives. In these troubled times, it is more important than ever to be fully informed BEFORE we vote. And just as important, PLEASE VOTE.

Mike McMahon October 19, 2010 at 01:55 PM
You were one smart bum by the way.

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