Our Opinion: Wilson needs a few good candidates for local public office

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Have you given some thought to what Wilson County can do today to attract the jobs of tomorrow? Maybe it’s time to throw your hat in the ring for a seat on the Board of Commissioners.

Has your experience as a parent shown you what your children’s school needs to be successful? There could be a place at the table for you on the Board of Education.

Is the partisanship and rancor in Raleigh working your last nerve? Wilson County will elect one member each to the state House and Senate this year.

Candidate filing opened at noon Monday and continues until Feb. 28 at the Wilson County Board of Elections, so there’s still plenty of time to jump into the local race of your choice. We need concerned, thoughtful and pragmatic Wilsonians to answer the call to public service.

With a few notable exceptions, most incumbents are expected to seek re-election. If they’ve served the public faithfully, the voters may reward them with another term. But that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t benefit from a little competition — or that there aren’t people out there who could do an even better job if given the chance.

The Wilson Times does not endorse candidates for public office, but we’ve always believed that voters benefit from choice, competition and debate. No candidate ought to win by forfeit — we think Wilson County residents should have decisions to make on Election Day, and the choice of one name on the ballot is really no choice at all.

Uncontested races reduce voter turnout, inspire apathy and tend to make incumbents take their positions of public trust for granted. A politician who doesn’t have to campaign is less responsive to constituents’ concerns than one who’s trying to demonstrate why he or she is the best person for the job. That’s no knock on any individual, it’s just human nature.

A contest between candidates is, at its core, a competition of ideas. Debate makes us sharper, keener and better able to articulate what we believe. That’s an exercise all office-seekers should perform and one all voters should be able to witness.

Newcomers needn’t be intimidated by the political process. Long-serving elected officials may be introduced at public events and have their names on campaign signs and their pictures in the newspaper and on TV, but no one was born into office. Every incumbent starts as a challenger and every challenger starts as an ordinary citizen who wants to make a difference.

Running for office is a natural extension of participating in our American representative democracy. From the smallest local boards and commissions to the heights of Capitol Hill and the White House itself, our Founding Fathers envisioned a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Good public servants come from all walks of life. They are retirees and young professionals, teachers and stockbrokers, truck drivers and college professors, men and women, black, white and Hispanic. Any American with a sincere desire to effect change can serve in public office.

Have you thought about running but stayed silent in deference to the current office-holder? Maybe he or she’s your neighbor, acquaintance, colleague or even a relative. You may want to reconsider — bowing out is doing neither you nor the incumbent nor the voters any favors.

True leaders don’t bristle at competition; they welcome it. Nor do they feel entitled to the positions of leadership they hold. They understand that those offices belong to the people they represent. They are caretakers, not owners.

Competitive races are a win for everyone involved. Incumbents who seek to retain their seats want a mandate and a vote of confidence from those they represent. A lack of opposition deprives them of that, and comedian John Oliver describes the resulting hollow victories as “defeating the very concept of nothing.”

Incumbents need challengers.

Voters need choices.

And if you have ideas to help make your community a better place to live, work and play, Wilson County needs you on the ballot.