It’s a conversation I’ve had several times in the past few weeks: A candidate, a friend of a candidate or an enemy of a candidate seeking a seat on the City Commission or Board of Education in Johnson City’s April 23 election will phone and ask:
“What are you hearing about the election?”
My answer has been consistent:
“I’m hearing nothing — just the wind in the trees.”
I have written a column like this many times before to complain of how dreadfully dull a local election was shaping up to be, but this time I really mean it. I do. Even the candidates are beginning to doze off at forums.
The latter is an exaggeration, but one candidate told me he would not be surprised to see fewer than 3,500 voters go to the polls in April. If correct, that would represent barely 1 percent of the registered voters in Johnson City.
Sounds pessimistic, I know, but it has happened before. Not many Johnson Citians know we are coming to the last weeks of a city election, and even fewer actually care.
I’ve heard some people complain it’s the candidates themselves who should be blamed for this lackluster campaign. Where are the yard signs? Where are the billboards? Where are the mailouts? Who is out knocking on doors? Is anyone spending any money in this campaign?
The signs are undoubtably coming. Early voting starts April 3, and I expect to see campaign signs soon blooming all over the city. And money is indeed being spent. Several of the candidates have hired professional propagandists to help with their campaigns. Just how much is being spent won’t be known until early April. That’s when the candidates are required to file their first campaign finance reports with the state.
I suspect, however, this year we won’t see the really big bucks some candidates have spent on City Commission races in the past. Truthfully, this is a boring election because there are no polarizing issues or polarizing candidates to fuel interest.
Our last hotly contested City Commission election was in 2007. That’s when voters sent packing two polarizing incumbents of the commission. Once “He who shall not be named” and Ricky Mohon left the commission, things settled down quite a bit. There are no more televised fireworks shows two Thursday nights a month at the Municipal and Safety Building.
I don’t miss the drama of “You Know Who,” but there is something to be said about having at least one maverick, one gunslinger or one oddball on the City Commission who is quick to say what many in the city might be thinking, but are too polite to voice in public. I’m not saying we need a return of the sadistic public tormenting of the city staff that was a favorite tactic of some past outsiders on the board, but the City Commission could use a member who is not afraid to shake things up.
Just a reminder: Join us April 3 for this newspaper’s Community Editorial Board Meeting at 5 p.m. in the Carl A. and Kathryn P. Jones Meeting Room of the Johnson City Public Library. We will hear from candidates for commission and school board, and I promise we won’t let any of them doze off.
Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.