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At a time when so many people seem torn about "access" to Juneau, I am writing to voice my concern about "access" to local government.
Wednesday evening at the League of Women Voters debates, many of the candidates for local office (Jamie Parsons, Sally Smith, PeggyAnn McConnochie) stated that they planned to spend in excess of $20,000-$25,000. In his last campaign, District 1 incumbent Ken Koelsch raised close to $30,000. They explained that the only way to win is by spending large amounts of money. Some of the candidates even admitted that this was "obscene," but they were "forced" to do so.
Forced by whom, I wonder? Every candidate for local public office has access to a number of free forums to get their message out: free coverage by the Juneau Empire, Chamber of Commerce luncheons, League of Women Voter debates, "Meet the Candidates" Day at UAS and the Nugget Mall, and KTOO's "Question of the Day." Furthermore, every candidate has direct access to voters by going door to door. Although I have yet to see any of the big spenders at my door.
While these free forums create the illusion that anyone can run for office and win, I'm beginning to think that the giant (expensive) signs and continuous (expensive) radio/TV/newspaper ads have more of an effect.
Perhaps it's our responsibility as voters to "force" new trends in political campaigning. How can we do this? By showing support for candidates who believe that local politics is not about who you know and how much money you can raise. By showing support for candidates who go through all neighborhoods, knocking on doors and really listening to everyone's input regardless of their ability to give money. By showing support for candidates who want to represent and serve their community, based solely on merit and hard work.
People continuously wonder why participation at the polls is so low. People continue to wonder why so few are willing to run for local office. The reason in part may be that the price of having one's voice heard is too high.