THE PACKAGED CANDIDATE
by Bob Hegamin April 1, 1999
This paper was originally made public on July 14, 1997 and is reproduced at this time with a few revisions. The purpose of the piece was to expose the methods candidates for office use in the City of Seattle. It was written in generic terms and the assessment remains as true today as it did then.
SELECTING THE BEST?
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If we expect "good" government, we should look for persons who have the qualifications and expertise to do the job. But, DO WE? Since we set no qualifications or standards for political candidates, why should we be surprised with what we get?
Today, the elective process has become just a mandated requirement signifying nothing. The Mayor and Councilmembers are being elected to office by simply winning popularity contests. They are elected on name familiarity or on a perceived "something" they may have said or done. Beyond that, their qualifications may be irrelevant yet accepted without question. They arent required to divulge and divest themselves of any potential "conflicts of interest" which may affect their decisions. They are allowed to take office without having told voters anything about their political, economic or social philosophies. Only too late, do we ask: "Whats wrong with our government?"
The business of governance is not a game. The serious responsibility of representing the people of Seattle should be the foremost duty in the political lives of our elected officials. That message should come through loud and clear.
So, why shouldnt the people of Seattle expect the best? We are, after all, electing candidates to high office and delegating our powers, our lives, and the future of our children and ourselves to them. We want and expect them to serve with honor and integrity. And, why not?
THE PACKAGED CANDIDATE. Helping to elect some candidates are political parties, political consultants, public relations firms as well as supporters who collectively become THE "candidate." Meanwhile the ANNOUNCED candidate is turned into a piece of "packaged" merchandise.
The process starts when polls determine what issues concern people the most. The packaged candidate is briefed on those issues, provided with "solutions", trained to give "canned speeches, then finally but not surprisingly tells voters exactly what they want to hear.
Baiting the electorate with promises and "visions" instead of discussing issues are the "grist" of campaigns today, and that technique is carried over into the job of governing. Voters are left confused, when illusions and gimmicks are used as "high tech" tools to market candidates. There arent any labels on the packaged candidate, so the electorate doesnt know what its really "buying."
An incumbent running for reelection goes through the same regimen that a novice candidate does, but also carries a voting record into the campaign. This allows voters a chance to call to account any "achievements touted by the incumbent and the subsequent financial, social or psychological cost to the people. It can tell voters if the campaign promises and "visions" were kept. It can tell the people of Seattle whether the incumbent ever proposed any beneficial plans or recommendations.
Ultimately, as a result of relationships built up among those involved in a campaign, some supporters and consultants may be asked to "stay on" with a successful candidate. With that, routines of the campaign go on staff and consultants continue to establish issues, prepare "solutions", design policies and procedures while the official continues to mouth "canned" speeches.
TIME IS MONEY. The most disconcerting and contentious problem voters face after an election is the successful "single-issue" candidate whose inherent abilities and capabilities, relative to the job, are limited. This characteristic subsequently becomes a liability which manifests itself as a piecemeal approach to complex problems. Additionally, when elected officials do not personally have the experience or expertise to understand complex issues, it simply takes more time to develop, legislate and implement comprehensive solutions. Time is money and office holders who require additional time and data to understand materials already presented, force taxpayers to allocate even more dollars for unnecessary extra surveys, analyses and administrative costs.
The conclusion is that the people of Seattle are having tax dollars used for time consuming "on-the-job" training programs for office holders. This is extremely discouraging to voters who realize, too late, that theyve hired less than the "best" people for the job of governing Seattle.
Candidates say they want to discuss issues. But, do they? The subject of "issues" is an issue in itself. Are they: Public safety? Schools? Potholes? Homelessness? Sport stadiums? Bonded indebtedness? Puget Sound? Rates and fees? Citizen involvement? City debt?
The following are excerpts from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and lightly touch on the issue of issues. Are they really that important in a campaign? At the time, two candidates didnt think so.
May 10, 1985
"Norm Rice is figuring to run for mayor this year against the incumbent, Charles Royer.
But City Council President Rice ended up last night in the position of defending City Hall against a spirited attack by an underdog "outsider" candidate for mayor.
Bob Hegamin, a city engineer who leads a taxpayer group, said both Royer and Rice have failed in more than seven years to involve city residents in their government.
" communities should not just be blips on a map of government. They should be part and parcel of government."
" I know we are not doing the best job that we can in relationships with the neighborhoods," Rice later responded, "but I think it has to come from executive leadership."
June 21, 1985
" Hegamin, an independent candidate, didnt get far trying to press the mayor on issues. If he were elected, Hegamin said, he would give more city resources to South Seattle, cut down on bond borrowing and do more to help the homeless, the mentally ill and street kids.
Royer, however, didnt respond to those issues.
Instead, he talked about cleaning up Puget Sound and attacking "this crisis of confidence in public education."
FYI -- The Mayor does not have any control over either of the two "issues" he decided to talk about.