Friday, March 21, 2008

The Race is On

On your marks. Get set. Go! Indeed, the race is on.

Last week marked the official deadline to file for any of the municipal seats up for election in May. And a last-minute flurry of activity ensured that we have a full slate of candidates for all of the offices. There are two candidates for Mayor, four for each of the city council seats and even a couple each for the open school board slots.

Now comes the hard part: you have to pick someone to vote for. (You ARE going to vote this May, aren’t you?) So how does the average citizen decide which horse to back in the big event? Which mayoral candidate gets the nod? Is there a council aspirant that shares your views on the future of Frisco? Should we return the sitting members to the school board, or is it time for a change? And just to round out the slate, you’ve got the whole “late-night liquor” referendum to deal with.

Unlike the two-year marathon that typifies our national election, municipal elections are more like the 100-yard dash. There’s not a lot of time between the filing deadline and election day. Early voting begins on the first of May, with the general election on the tenth. So you have about 6 or 7 weeks to identify the key issues, find out where each candidate stands and then weigh the pros and cons to arrive at a choice. So how do you find out which of the 14 candidates for city-wide office resonate with your personal views?

Local elections aren’t like the big races with their elephantine campaign war chests. The average city council candidate will spend in the lower “thousands” range. No high-dollar TV spots for these folks. You’re not likely to see any full-page ads in the newspaper, either. And it’s pretty hard to squeeze much information into a 2-foot-square lawn sign stuck in someone’s yard.

Bring on the Internet. The World Wide Web has made it efficient for anyone to express their views without breaking their budgets. For a very modest sum, every candidate can (and should) have their own web site where they can explain their views on a wide range of topics, from crime prevention, to city growth, to taxes, or whatever else is on their minds. Plus, they can let you know how to contact them, where they’ll be appearing and even what their favorite flavor of pudding is. One of the criteria I use to rate candidates is how well they present their views on their web site. No mamby-pamby soft-pedaling politicians for me. I like to see firm stands on key issues. (Hint for candidates: butterscotch or chocolate.)

How do you find the candidate’s sites? I’ll make it easy for you. I’ve published a (hopefully comprehensive) list of candidate websites on my blog:

Another online option is to visit Frisco’s own little corner of cyber-space: Frisco Online ( This site operates an open forum where city residents can discuss everything from politics to that jerk in the white SUV that cut you off in traffic last weekend. Drop into the Politics and City Issues forum for a lively discussion on a wide variety of topics. They’ve even set up a specific area just to ask candidates questions.

If these sites don’t help, consider attending one of the myriad public events that will be presented between now and May. The Mayoral candidates are scheduled for three public debates, which are great opportunities to hear exactly where they stand. On top of these, look to see the candidates make an appearance at just about every civic event, home-owners meeting and public gathering of 3 or more people in the next month. Where do you find out about these events? Again, check out the candidates’ web sites. Most of them will list when and where they’ll be appearing.

Can’t make it to any events? Then pick up the phone. Most candidates have a phone number on their site that you can call for more information. And unlike the national candidates, you’re actually likely to get a direct response from the folks here in Frisco. After all, they’re not just running for office, they’re your neighbors. One last item. If you’re new to Frisco, or just haven’t gotten around to it, you have until April 10th to register to vote. Contact the City Secretary’s office for locations.

The starter’s pistol has sounded in this dash to the finish. The candidates are already out of the blocks and hitting their stride. Don’t get left behind!

Friday, March 7, 2008

No Time for a Party

I’m going to let you in on a secret I've lived with for over 20 years. This is a secret so dire that it could eliminate me from any consideration for any public office in Collin County. My closest friends know, but most of them are polite enough to overlook it. I’ve had enough of living in the shadows, so here goes…

I’m a Democrat.

Okay… there it is. I feel much better now. But before you run off to sharpen the knives and pitchforks, let’s take a look at what this cathartic revelation of mine really means. First of all, I’m really not interested in prying the guns from your cold, dead hands. I don’t kill babies during full moons, or any other time of month. And while I have been known to hug a tree now and then, it’s likely because I was trying to get away from the maniacal, wild pigs I was hunting.

So really, I’m not much different than most of my fellow Frisco residents. Sure, I have some wacky ideas about national health care and our involvement in Middle East nation-building (for one, against the other). And I often find myself championing unpopular positions in political discussions with my more conservative friends. However, in most cases, we end up discovering that our ideas are really not too different. (Well, there is the anarchist I play poker with, but that’s another story altogether.)

This year, of course, Texas Democrats are crawling out of the woodwork. For the first time in recent memory, Texans actually have a say in a presidential primary election. I’ve been surprised at the number of folks that were actively debating whether they would vote for Hillary or Barack earlier this week. Of course, some of them were basing their vote on which candidate would most likely lose to the Republican in the fall. And at my polling location, despite all the press calling for a huge Democratic Party turnout, they had twice as many voting booths on the Republican side of the room. It was a clear reminder that there were more races to be decided than who will occupy the White House. Lest we forget, Collin County is still the reddest of red strongholds.

And that’s a major problem. We’ve become a nation of Reds and Blues. There’s no room for shades of purple in between. And greens, yellows and silver need not even apply. You see, even though I identify myself as a Democrat, I don’t necessarily agree with all of the planks in the Democratic Party Platform. I’m all for safety nets in our economy, for example, but I draw the line when the net becomes the floor. And then there are some Red ideas that make a lot of sense to me (flat tax anyone?).

I recently took an online survey designed to match me up with my ideal candidate. After selecting from multiple choice questions and weighting the issues I thought were most important (health care and tax reform, by the way) I was dumbfounded to find myself tracking closest to Mike Huckabee! After some additional research, I quickly discovered that the match had a lot to do with how the questions were worded. But I was in happy to know that I could likely have a conversation with the Arkansas Governor and that we could find common ground. And that’s something that’s been missing from our national political debate for too long.

Luckily, our city elections are non-partisan. I say “luckily” because I hold out hope that we can have a real exchange of ideas between the mayoral or city council candidates without falling into the stereotypical roles dictated by party platforms. As we debate our local elections, I hope we can refrain from trying to paint the candidates with the broad strokes of national party brushes. Instead, we should encourage the candidates to eschew the traditional left and right debate. Let’s start with the solutions that are right for Frisco. If it turns out these ideas fall on one side or other of the spectrum, so be it. But it’s far more important to debate the merits of the concept than which side of the aisle it comes from.

Now, I’m going to run down to the hardware store and make sure I’ve got some extra plywood and nails. I think I can hear the mobs forming in the distance.