Too few candidates seek to represent area

Competition is an important part of democracy. It's too bad too few are willing to participate.

newsroom@islandpacket.comApril 6, 2014 

On the sports field, in a career field -- and in political races -- competition is a necessity. Innately, we are compelled to work harder and accomplish more when competitors are nipping at our heels.

Thus, it's disappointing that so few challengers have filed to run in the local, state and federal races to represent Beaufort County. U.S. representatives Mark Sanford and Jim Clyburn as well as state representatives Shannon Erickson, Bill Herbkersman, Weston Newton and Kenneth Hodges are all unopposed. Only one candidate, Hilton Head Island financial adviser Jeff Bradley, has filed for Rep. Andy Patrick's House seat. Patrick has announced he will not seek reelection.

It appears that the hottest races will be for Beaufort County Council seats where four of the seven council members on the ballot face challengers.

It's not that we dislike specific elected officials and are looking for them to be ejected from their posts. Rather, this lack of competition allows all public officials to get too comfortable and -- perhaps unresponsive -- to voters' needs. The next election is always on a public official's mind, and keeps them on their toes. Denied a challenger, their motivation to work at optimum speed and skill can decline.

Unfortunately, too few residents who would make excellent public servants have the time, energy or desire to raise money and campaign. The pace can be grueling, and the outcome is uncertain.

And the system is stacked against newcomers. They often lack the necessary money to run. They have little to no name ID with voters. And they have little knowledge of how to run an effective campaign. Meanwhile, they face incumbents who have all of the above and experience on winning races.

It's a problem not just locally, but at every level of government. In a recent column for the Los Angeles Times, college professor and author Jonathan Zimmerman bemoaned the fact that the last time he voted for a presidential candidate that wasn't a Clinton or a Bush was 2008. And before that, it was 1980.

"That's not good for our image overseas, or for our democracy at home," Zimmerman wrote. "We tell the world that we're a land of opportunity, where anyone can grow up to be the president. Then we limit ourselves to a handful of political dynasties."

We act similarly at the state and local level, electing the same incumbents again and again.

The 2014 election season has shaped up to have few contested S.C. House and Senate races, and one of the slowest starts of any season that Katon Dawson, former chairman of the S.C. Republican Party, can recall.

Late last month, Dawson told The State newspaper he was surprised more Democrats are not running in June's primary, especially as they are the minority party.

When the GOP was the minority party in the 1980s and 1990s, Dawson said, Republicans used the primaries to gain exposure, experience and supporters -- even though party leaders knew their candidates were unlikely to win the races.

"We'd pick people to run for office and tell them, 'We know you're going to lose,'" Dawson told the newspaper.

From those hard knock beginnings, the GOP has come to dominate the S.C. political landscape, now holding majorities in both State House chambers and occupying all nine statewide offices.

Maybe it's time for Beaufort County and the country to remember that competition is an important ingredient in democracy. And sometimes, it yields big results.

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