One of the reasons I got into this business is because I've always loved politics. While it's a sport that makes professional wrestling look legit, it's fun to watch, nonetheless.
During the last local election year, however, I found myself pretty much hating everyone running for office.
OK, maybe "hate" is too strong a word. "Load up every candidate in a school bus and drop it off the bridge to nowhere" is probably a more accurate description.
That's because it seems the political arena has moved from a rock-'em, sock-'em fistfight to a spitball fight in a junior high school cafeteria. The skins of those seeking public office seem to get thinner every year and their supporters and opponents get nastier and more juvenile. Thanks to the ever-increasing presence of blogs and social media, the attacks and petty claims are everywhere.
Politics, regardless of its level, has always been a bloodsport. Campaigns get nasty. Attacks come from all directions. Distorted and even false claims made about the other guy are par for the course.
The thing is, it seems there's a competition every election cycle to see who can reach a new low. Claims of "this guy's a [insert accusation here], and I can prove it" followed by no such offering of proof are commonplace. Who's sleeping with who also comes in to play -- a lot -- to the point where I'm convinced just about everyone in a six-county region around here has had sex with each other at least once.
Families -- including children -- get attacked. Some folks spend their entire days stalking political opponents hoping to catch them in an act of misbehavior.
It used to be that candidates relied on their minions to do their dirty work for them. Now, it's not uncommon for those running for office to jump in the mud themselves.
Shouldn't those seeking elected office be above such nonsense? Shouldn't voters expect more from their candidates?
In fact, shouldn't the public demand more from their candidates?
It's especially tough on the local level to avoid personal conflicts during election campaigns. We don't live in a major metropolitan area. Our community consists of smaller population clumps nestled between large swaths of rural landscape.
That means we don't simply get to choose between Republicans and Democrats (or third-party and independent candidates). Our choices are neighbor versus neighbor. Friend versus friend, or in many cases, ex-friend versus ex-friend.
I've seen instances in which one person will run against another because of a slight that happened 20 years prior.
Regardless of personal differences, however, there are some very real issues facing all of us that require strong and effective leadership.
This is an especially important election year in Montgomery County. Voters here are picking a brand new government at the county level. There are major differences in the candidates for county executive -- Republican Matthew Ossenfort and Democrat Dominick Stagliano. The contest for the new legislature will show where the real power base lies in the county.
In Amsterdam, the Common Council race is less about who will serve on the city's legislative bodies and more about the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency against Mayor Ann Thane. As we're all aware, the mayor and AIDA are locked in a fight over a mural in a downtown building that all of a sudden became the most important thing ever. Two Republican AIDA members -- Ronald Barone and Edward Russo -- are in contests against two Democrats who will likely be staunch allies of the mayor -- Debra Baranello and Kenneth Mazur.
The thing is, we're not even two weeks past the primaries and the nonsense is kicking into full gear. It would be nice to see something a little different this election season.
Now don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with hammering candidates for office when it comes to their experience and their record. There's nothing wrong with hammering an opponents' platform, After all, this is a contest, so it's natural that everyone running for office is in it to win it.
But how about we actually hear clearly articulated platforms for a change? Worn-out talking points like "lower taxes" and "more code enforcement" make for good sound bites, but it doesn't tell anyone anything.
Yeah, we all want lower taxes and more code enforcement, but voters deserve to hear exactly how a candidate plans to get there. That goes for just about any issue out there.
And any candidate who dares to utter the phrase "I am not a politician" should be soundly defeated in any election. Yes, you are. You became a politician the minute you started asking people to sign a petition in order to get your name on a ballot.
Those who are seeking elected office should be willing to clearly define their positions on issues. They should be willing to separate themselves from their opponents and establish the clear differences that exist between the two (or three, in some instances). They should be willing to rise above the stupidity that is sure to come.
If they won't, the public should demand they do. Half the reason we've been stuck with people through the years who have been less than fit for public office is because we don't care enough to vote them out. This needs to change.
Is it too much to ask that voters and candidates raise the bar a bit this year? It would be better for everyone if they did. After all, we're supposed to be adults.
CHARLIE KRAEBEL is editor
of The Recorder. Contact him