So, it looks like former state Sen. Andy Berke is going to be the next mayor of Chattanooga.
What’s that you say? The election hasn’t even been held yet? Oh, I know. Election day is still weeks away. But it doesn’t matter. No offense to the other candidates, but with Rob Healy now out of the race, it appears that Berke faces no real, formidable opponent in his quest to succeed Mayor Ron Littlefield.
By accounts, Berke is a stand-up guy dedicated to making a difference in this city. And though he may very well do great things while in office—and though there will also most certainly be a large feeling of “nowhere to go but up” in the post-Littlefield era—there is a bigger, more concerning issue at play.
In short, Chattanooga doesn’t vote. At least not in local elections.
In a city with 105,000 registered voters, only 18,773—fewer than 18 percent—went to the polls during the last municipal election. Should the people of this city be embarrassed by their apathy? Yes.
Could the low turnout have stemmed from the fact that voters felt that a Littlefield victory—like Berke’s upcoming predicted win—was a foregone conclusion? Did they see no chance for a different outcome and, in turn, no reason to participate? Were they simply worn out after having just endured a contentious presidential election that fall?
I can understand why voters would question the point of voting when it appears that one candidate is going to run away with an election, and I can sympathize with being exhausted by all that accompanies a national election, but city elections are different. If the mayor’s race is a virtual lock, there are still City Council races to consider—oftentimes races with opponents who stand a real chance of challenging incumbents for their seats.
A lot of time and energy is spent on national elections. We are inundated with ads and the media talking about how each election “is the most important election of our lifetime,” and we tear into each other, determined to see “our side” or “our guy” win. I don’t like what national elections do to us, but at least we’re engaged. We don’t have even remotely the same fire about local elections. This troubles me.
You would think that we would care more about which candidates represent us regarding the issues that affect us most directly when we walk out our front doors each day. We say that our votes don’t matter, that our representatives don’t hear us. But these candidates can hear us. They live and work with us, and we can see them, shake their hands and talk to them—especially if we bother to attend the several candidates forums that, like voting, we also tend to blow off each election cycle.
Our representative form of government is dependent on public participation to work properly, not on the public depending on it to do all the work. We all have roles to play. We all have jobs to do. And our first job is to show up at the polls. When we start to place more importance on voting in all elections than we do in winning one election, I think we’ll start to see better results.
Don’t see somebody on the ballot who you like this time? Urge somebody better to run next time. Or run yourself.
The election is March 5. May the best men and women win. And may all men and women who can, vote.
Bill Colrus writes about (in no particular order) news, culture, music and media. You can find him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter or reach him at email@example.com. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.