Endorse me, endorse my dog

RE the 2020 City Commission, County Commission and School Board races: With Thanksgiving approaching, potential candidates are finalizing their plans, to run or not to run. It won’t be long until the first wave of slick campaign ads arrives in the mail and early contributor reports are posted online.

(What follows was submitted to the Gainesville Sun in February of this year. I got the following response:

“Thanks for the submission. I’m not printing guest columns on the city races, other than from the candidates themselves, but would be happy to consider a 150-word letter to the editor on the subject.”

Oh well…)

To me the most remarkable thing about contemporary local campaigns is how flagrantly sitting commissioners endorse the candidacies of their colleagues. Candidates openly flaunt their endorsements by other current office holders, not without their enthusiastic permission, of course.

This is a new and now pervasive, some would say perverse, tradition. Prior to the turn of the current century this practice was unknown. It simply wasn’t done.

Oh, you might have seen a current commissioner’s name on a contributor list way back when, showing a $5 contribution, because he or she attended a weenie roast fundraiser in order to schmooze with the crowd, but even that would have been slightly out of the ordinary. An explicit endorsement from a fellow commissioner, an elected official, just isn’t on a par with an endorsement from any private citizen. It raises a fair question: Who exactly are you going to represent?

I don’t know to what extent old-school politicians considered it uncool to profusely endorse their colleagues, but I know it was considered unseemly, if not borderline evidence of outright collusion.

Realistically, it was also simply unnecessary. A voter who pays any attention at all to local politics will know which commissioners support one another on the big issues. And if you don’t pay attention, all you have to do is ask someone who does in order to find out. Moreover, if you don’t pay attention, and don’t have someone who does you can trust, then you probably won’t (and likely shouldn’t) be voting anyway.

Most significantly though, speaking as someone who’s studied local elections and advised candidates on strategy for over 40 years, it’s just plain dumb. Why? Because if it does make any difference at all, it can only be to harm both the endorser and the candidate!

To elaborate, if you like the policies of the endorsers, you’ll already like the policies of the endorsee; therefore, the endorsements can’t add anything to the support for the endorsee. And if you don’t like the endorsers, their endorsement certainly won’t raise your opinion of the candidate. Finally, if you do not like the candidate who’s on the ballot, it can only lower your opinion of the endorsers themselves and hurt them in the future.

The animosities thus created far outweigh whatever boost an accompanying monetary contribution might generate.

What are we to conclude then from such displays of cluelessness by so many new-school politicians compared with previous generations? That Darwin was wrong? For future campaign photos, the commissioners may as well just form a circle, with everyone scratching the next person’s back.

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