Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Candidates show class despite voter — and media — apathy

By Elaine Shein

At this time it appears the ballots are still being counted, percentages figured out, and the analysis continues, but there is one thing that really came through in this election.

Politicians can spend millions of dollars on a primary election … but they still can’t convince someone to care enough to go drop off a ballot.

Statewide, the last estimate tonight was just over 32 percent voter turnout of those who had registered. In some of the counties with the biggest populations, like Multnomah County, it was just over 30 percent; Clackamas and Washington Counties turned in numbers in the mid-20s.

Pundits suggested there wasn’t an issue that struck enough passion to draw voters. That is difficult to believe in a state that is one of the most passionate in the nation every time someone mentions “raising taxes” or “land use”. Oregon struggles with some of the most serious meth and other drug problems in the country, schools are miserably fighting for funds to stay open, and fuel prices are choking the economy. And don’t not even talk about PERS and the impact that had on people.

Agriculture had a lot of issues to be passionate about, but unfortunately very seldom did politicians talk about agriculture when it came to the urban, mainstream media where it might have caught more attention and focus in an election year.

Actually, by tonight it appeared the mainstream media had lost interest altogether in the election. Checking the television stations, it became clear that the media felt they had given the politicians enough airtime — for now — and there are much more important things to catch attention in this state.

Note to politicians: never hold an election during TV sweeps week, when season finales and final episodes of long-running shows compete for the mighty advertising dollar and consumer. While the TV stations promised to keep voters tuned in to the latest election results, it was pathetic to see how the coverage turned out. Trying to find out the local results for their local county, or issue, or favorite candidate, voters were encouraged to go to websites instead.

Guess what? Not everyone has internet access. Or high speed internet connections. Or the time and patience to try to find the information online, scrolling through the election results. They probably gave up, turned to Larry King to watch the delightful Donny and Marie Osmond reunite on TV for the first time in 5 years, or checked out the season finales of their favorite shows.

The election coverage was such a joke on other stations, CNN had a chance to compete with some real comedians in the Osmonds. Perhaps Larry King’s show was appropriate for election night.

At least King gave the Osmonds enough time to speak. The television networks, every one of them it appeared, didn’t think it was worthwhile to show the complete speeches of the political candidates — especially the victorious ones — tonight.

Viewers got partial speeches. As soon as the candidates began to 1) thank those who supported them 2) launch into anything that sounded like an election speech against opponents this fall, they were cut off and political analysts, pundits, commentators and anyone else was brought on to discuss what was just said (or at least part of what was said). This is an insult to the candidates but especially to all those hardworking, dedicated, passionate volunteers.

The media coverage was shoddy, and did little to create interest, passion and pride in voters. Voters earned the right to see their candidates as well as their opponents do their speeches. This is the time to unite parties, prepare for the bigger fall election battles, and also hopefully create more interest for people to exercise their right to vote.

But this didn’t happen.

The speeches didn’t air, or those messages were cut out.

Why was it so important to hear these last speeches from perhaps candidates we may never see running again for public office?

In this election, there was a lot of mudslinging. The public claims to hate that ugly side of politics, yet the politicians swear they work and influence voters.

Put that ugliness aside for now, and hope that politicians can rise above that in the next few months when this state needs to pull together more than ever to deal with the challenges out there, but also find opportunities to work together towards opportunities.

Forgetting the terrible attack ads, it’s time to focus on some signs of class that came out of the election today:

1) All three top Republican candidates have decided to appear together at a press conference to show unity and also support the person who won. Ron Saxton won, but the decision to do this press conference was made before results even came in tonight.

2) Incumbent Governor Ted Kulongoski thanked the two people who ran against him and felt it taught him a few lessons and prepared him to be stronger for the fall election. One of the highest praises he could give them: Oregon is better for the service they have provided the state.

3) Jason Atkinson deserves special credit for how he vowed not to do an attack campaign, and may have influenced the Republican party to have higher standards in the future.

4) Jim Hill showed modest, sincere appreciation and gratitude to the unions who supported him and said he did what needed to be done, bringing issues that were important to the front of the election.

5) Kevin Mannix was one of the last people to leave his election party tonight in Portland. With a small table of family and supporters being the last to leave the room, Mannix talked about it being like an Irish wake, and took the time to enjoy being with loved ones but also reflect on the election with the people closest to him. For someone who has run so many times unsuccessfully for some of the top jobs in the state, Mannix showed class in how he handled defeat, right to the end.

Tomorrow, some election signs will come down, others will go up, and the fight to collect more volunteers, endorsements, money and ultimately voters will begin even more earnestly for those who continue to battle.

Hopefully in the fall the voters will do their part and show up in larger percentages to take part in this great democracy.

And hopefully the television stations will accept more responsibility to show history as it unfolds rather than concentrate on what entertainment shows will catch the largest audiences and commercial dollars at this time of year.

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