Politicians as an oppressed group?
Oh, please. Don’t make us laugh.
Actually, though, those who run for public office on the national, state or local level, and especially those who win and assume leadership, often can be subjected to a barrage of abuse — not just from late-night talk show hosts, but from everyone from deep thinkers to the bitter letter-writer who lives across town.
So says Plato: “Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.”
And this from H.L. Mencken: “I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for public office.”
Today, we are happy to acknowledge that there are still plenty of brave, civically engaged people in the Valley who are willing to take the good (decision-making clout to craft policy) with the bad (scorn from many fronts) as an elected official and have decided to fling their fedoras into the ring and run for a bevy of local seats in the Aug. 6 primary.
It, frankly, takes guts and commitment and even a smidgen of quixotic hubris to run for office. But we are grateful that many of the races throughout the county will be contested this late summer and fall. Nothing is more deflating to a healthy democracy than civic positions going unfilled or having incumbents running unopposed.
Even the most competent and beloved city councilperson or school board member should have their past actions in office and future plans challenged periodically in a public forum. It helps hold them accountable to you, the voter. And municipalities that have been mired in controversy, or even alleged illegality, need as many choices as possible to either “throw the bums out” or keep the status quo.
And that brings us to the two county cities with highest profile races on the upcoming ballot — Wapato and Yakima.
In the first few days of the weeklong, late May filing period, it appeared that no one would challenge Wapato Mayor Dora Alvarez-Roa, who assumed the mantle after the reign of Juan Orozco, who resigned to become the city administrator, and few would even decide to run for the six City Council seats up for grabs. As state Auditor Pat McCarthy said recently when detailing “alarming disregard” for governmental norms in the Wapato under first Orozco and now Alvarez-Roa — at least six lawsuits about flouting open-meeting laws and a litany of financial transgressions — “Findings as significant as these need the attention of the public and a wider audience.”
Then, with only two days left to file, an onslaught of candidates descended. No fewer than 27 people are running for the seven seats — six in the mayoral race.
Candidates for seats feature critics of the current composition of the council, including at least two (Frances M. Ayres and Cindy V. Goodin) who are involved in public-records lawsuits against the city. Then there is Keith Workman, a voice of dissent on the current council, who is giving up his at-large council seat to challenge Alvarez-Roa. There also are pro-Orozco and pro-Alvarez-Roa candidates up for the council, notably Alvarez-Roa’s son, Timothy James Roa, and daughter, Danae Pugh.
Note that there is nothing illegal or untoward about relatives of a mayor holding positions on a city council. And Pugh told us that the fact she is the mayor’s daughter “has nothing to do with anything” and that she’s running because “if the older generation does not care about our kids’ future, we need to do something about it.”
Similar passion has been expressed by candidates vying for the four contested seats on the Yakima City Council, which has been dogged by infighting, riven by disagreement over the fate of the downtown plaza proposal (since rejected by voters) and recently censured Councilwoman Kay Funk (whose seat is secure until 2021) for her lack of decorum and public comments.
The council may be headed for a philosophical facelift, since three current members (Kathy Coffey, Dulce Gutierrez and Carmen Mendez) are not running for re-election.
Coffey, who served as mayor and ran unsuccessfully for the state House of Representatives, last year, is an example of the “old guard” in Yakima. Before joining the council in 2007, she was president and CEO of the Valley Visitors and Convention Bureau. Three candidates running for her District 5 position have a less traditional pedigree: Soneya Lund owns a salon; Liz Hallock owns a marijuana business; Mark Collins works in software development. Whoever wins that seat, candidates with such varied backgrounds will assure new perspectives to the council.
Sorry, Plato, but these would-be public servants — mayoral candidates on down to fire-district representatives — should be lauded, not lampooned.