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A Voting Primer

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    If you have ever conducted an interview and hired someone, then you know firsthand how difficult this task can be. On the surface it seems overly simply – review the resume, ask thoughtful questions, check the references. But rarely does the time you spend with a potential candidate yield the information you truly need to ensure a good match. Nevertheless, we rely on a generally sound methodology, we try to learn from our mistakes, and we strive to make a concerted effort. A very similar process is utilized when we look for someone to watch our children. Why are we so careful with potential employees and babysitters? The answer, you surmise, is obvious – because they become the caretakers of critical assets; assets we value dearly.
    So when I recently came to the realization that it was once again the beginning of an election cycle, and experiencing an old familiar dread, I started to ponder why it was that I felt out of touch with the candidates. It is not just these particular candidates -  like many voters, each year I feel a little more out of touch with most candidates. I suspect the candidates may potentially feel the same way – what is it that the voter needs to know about me, and how do I get that message across?
    Perhaps the answer is for the voter to look at the election process more like a job interview than an electoral process. This would bring the candidate closer to the voter’s real world thinking, and potentially break through the barrier of generalization that permits sweeping statements, inhibiting the communication of specifics. Likewise, the voter would have to stop assuming that what the candidate does on a daily basis is any different than what the business owner, manager or full time care giver does: answer email, balance the budget, track expenses, manage employees (or children, as if there is a big difference), compose effective communication, develop sound planning and provide some degree of accountability. Wouldn’t you like a candidate to talk and think like a business owner, or non-profit Executive Director, showing some cognizance of the bottom line? Shouldn’t the candidate have some ownership for the decisions made and direction taken as a result of their leadership position? I believe qualified candidates want to clearly express their capabilities, but often fall into the trap of fearing the voters’ response to basic, frank conversation. So let’s help the candidate communicate by identifying what the questions are.
    Begin with the basics. Why do you want this job? Have you read the job description? What experience do you have that directly correlates to the responsibilities of the position? Have you ever supervised? Almost every single Bonner County position requires supervising between 7-20 people. What methods have you employed in past supervisory positions to motivate people to do a good job? Have you ever had to document poor performance for the purpose of terminating an employee? Do you work well in a team environment? What do you do when the team is not working together – whether the team is subordinates or peers? How do you build consensus? What is your strongest communication skill? Can you speak in public, write or communicate complex ideas verbally? What kind of computer skills do you have? Are you familiar with the tools utilized in the department you seek to manage?
    Most candidates run for an office because they believe they can do a better job than the person who currently holds the office. Most incumbents run because they feel they have done an effective job to date, and have more tasks to accomplish, given more time. If you are not an incumbent, what is the basis for your discontent? What changes do you hope to make? Virtually everyone wants to change something, but a lack of familiarity with the mechanics to implement change causes broad generalizations to be made. So the question is more accurately put as, how do you plan to go about recommending or instituting your changes, and how do you plan to motivate your team (the employees) to endorse the change? What are your four-year goals, and how did you develop them? How will the public influence them as you grow in your position? If you are an incumbent, what form of measurement should the public use to determine your effectiveness? What examples can you share that identify you as being capable of putting the voters' best interests above your own?
     If the candidate is seeking a legislative seat, the questions become even greater in scope. What is your familiarity with the mechanics of state government? What subcommittees do you hope to sit on and why? Are you familiar with the pecking order in Boise, and how do you plan to influence it? What connections, if any, do you have? How will we, the voters, stay in touch with you, and how will we track your voting record or influence it? What is your position on cutting social services, on balancing the budget, on bringing home the bacon? What would you have done if asked to vote on the education budget? Whose council do you seek when making tough decisions? What kind of second job do you anticipate holding when the legislature is not in session? How often will you be home? How familiar are you with the organizational hierarchy of state agencies? What is your number one, two and three priorities, and I am not speaking of God, family and country, although those are extremely valid, but rather legislative priorities?
    Now you are the candidate and you want to respond, but how? Write a letter to the editor of this paper, or any other paper. Publish a very simple web page. Send your information to an already established web page that publishes up-to-date news briefs. Ask to hold a town hall meeting at the Gardenia Center, the City Forum, the Panida, with or without the other candidates. Park yourself at Monarch Mountain Coffee for a question and answer session and advertise in advance. Effective communication must move the voter beyond red, white and blue signs and quarter page ads with your name in bold type. As my softball coach always told me, move toward the ball. In this case, move toward the voter so the voter can confidently move toward you. One final note to the voter. Do not be too disrespectful of the candidate who had more courage than you or I to seek the office of their choice. It takes time, money, energy and enthusiasm to run for office. All candidates get equal credit for caring enough to bother running. Hopefully, we will spend several months in an intelligent dialogue.

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Carol Curtis

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