Pick candidates who'll represent all of a district
By Holly Audette
Wednesday, May 2, 2018
In just about a week, on Tuesday May 8, the election has its final day. Historic opportunities exist across the region. There are numerous open sheriff’s seats where competition in both major parties is rare. For those of us seeing the Republican vote, that is incredibly satisfying knowing that healthy, two-party competition did not exist here just a few years ago.
Many people have simply tuned out from politics and governing, convinced their participation simply does not matter. In northeastern North Carolina we have some reason to reach that conclusion. We have officeholders who have crowed that ideology alone, not responding to constituents, is their role. Making deals with other elected officials and voting to reflect that agreement is a higher priority than constituents who make up the district.
There are elected officials who decide that only their home, or the area closest to it, will get their attention. Complete parts of their district are irrelevant to them because they do not align politically.
Some candidates seek office largely to protect and advance those interests in which they themselves are professionally or personally involved. Their history of politically advancing those interests outside of elected office inspires them to do the same in elected office.
Because we are a rural region, these considerations can have a greater impact than in others. Our districts cover a huge geographical area in order to represent the same population as other districts, and it can take hours to get from one end of them to the other. The result is there are parts of the district very distinct from others, engendering less interest or more from a candidate or officeholder depending on their own background and priorities.
Our state government is organized according to the “Dillon Rule,” which is a legal principle that limits what local governments can do without approval by the General Assembly. I call this the “kiss the ring” form of government. Your local government must often go to its state representative to ask the General Assembly’s permission to act. Those who serve us in the state House and Senate are therefore crucial to what each part of a district accomplishes or gains. If you have a legislator who decides swaths of constituents will have no influence or that a number of counties will not be a priority, you can quickly see how such an officeholder influences “winners and losers.”
A very important part of a legislator’s work is constituent services. This often non-political work is very important. If a candidate has been in politics as a big money contributor and sees that as the path to influence, it is likely they will believe the same as an officeholder. Will an average constituent have access to that legislator or be a priority when they need help or consideration for an issue? Or will only those with deep pockets get that legislator’s ear? Are you from an area or part of a group that a particular candidate makes clear will not be considered? If your county is not a priority in a district for a particular representative, will the limited funding that comes our way ever land in a project in that county?
The Dillon Rule makes the choices for state representation critical. I would encourage voters to ask about relations between your district and potential candidates and query their knowledge of areas that are outside their particular home in the district. If they are incumbents, ask them and constituents what their reputation is for responding to those who reside in their whole district.
Surveying this responsiveness and knowledge — or lack it — will tell you a lot about the mindset of the person asking to represent you. Attempt to contact these folks personally and see whether they make themselves available and what kind of attention they give to your inquiry. Have you seen a candidate in your part of the district? Have they been attentive to the whole district, or have they made clear by where they spend time where their priority will be and where their attention will be invested? With our uniquely large geographical districts, a person’s willingness to travel to all of the district is critical. Informing you vote and then casting it is absolutely critical.
Our opportunity as a region depends on it.
Holly Audette is a small-business owner active in political and civic causes.