Candidates change, issues still sticky

June 01, 2008|By LYN WIDMYER

Six months ago, I officially entered the race for a seat on the Jefferson County (W.Va.) Commission. On May 13, I won the Democratic primary election. In November, I will face an Independent and a Republican opponent.

This is my first attempt at elected office. I have learned a lot. For example, community pancake suppers are great places to meet voters.

More seasoned politicians already know this because every supper I attended featured at least four other candidates. The poor diners had to deal with all of us roving between tables, introducing ourselves and our platform. I learned how patient voters are when interrupted mid-bite by a politician.

I also learned it takes a lot of syrup to lubricate a pancake the size of a paper plate.

Running for office means attending a lot of political forums. When I was president of the Jefferson County League of Women Voters back in the 1980s, there were very few forums or debates. This campaign, I attended 10.


Some were very well attended. Others, usually sponsored by smaller neighborhood groups, often featured more candidates than voters. At one forum, there were only 20 people in the audience and 17 were relatives of the candidates.

The typical format for forums involves an opening statement by each candidate, followed by a few questions from the moderator to start things rolling. Audience members then submit questions in writing. The moderator then chooses which questions to ask.

The forum sponsored by the NAACP allowed audience members to address questions directly to the candidates. I liked this approach the best. It was far more engaging to see who was asking the question and it added a lot more spontaneity to the debate.

Having a skilled and confident moderator (like the Rev. Ernest Lyles) is important to this format. At one point one of my opponents asked for clarification as to whether Morgan's Grove Park was owned by the county or by the Shepherdstown Men's Club. Lyles responded, "You're the candidate, shouldn't you know?"

Appearing at the Jefferson County League of Women Voters forum as a candidate was particularly special to me.

In 1986 I served as the moderator of one of the League's first candidate forums. According to the newspaper coverage at the time, the forum drew more than 60 people and "debate was spirited."

The key issues discussed included uncontrolled growth and the need for a comprehensive plan; economic growth and development, education, roads and reappraisal.

It is 20 years later and I hear the same concerns over and over again on the campaign trail. We need to do better if these same topics aren't going to dominate debates a decade from now.

As I approach the general election, certain aspects of campaigning will be easier. I know where the department of highways maintenance yard is, so I can retrieve yard signs removed by the mowing crews.

I have my colors selected (choosing distinct campaign colors is only slightly less difficult that understanding the property re-assessment process).

And I have learned one of the most important questions a candidate can ask on the campaign trail: "Could you pass the syrup, please?"

Lyn Widmyer is a Charles Town, W.Va., resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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