The Power of Ninety-Four
Recently, Wonder Wife and I had the honor of co-chairing one of our party’s 10 precincts. The purpose of our particular precinct caucus was to elect 14 delegates and 14 alternate delegates to the county party assembly. Despite dozens and dozens of telephone calls made by Wonder Wife urging our fellow precinct members to attend, only 12 citizens attended the evening meeting. This was typical of the attendance at the other nine precinct meetings as well.
Naturally, we elected all 12 attendees as delegates to the county assembly or convention. We had no one to be alternates. Of the 12 delegates only nine made good on their promise to attend the county assembly where the party’s nominees for county offices would be selected. This lackluster attendance was typical of the entire county.
As a result, only 94 of county’s just over 12,700 residents decided, with one exception, who will appear on our party’s ballot in the primary election. The one exception is a race for one county commissioner seat in which the incumbent is being challenged for the party’s nomination. But since the incumbent commissioner (who has been doing a good job) got onto the primary election ballot by a two-to-one margin, that race isn’t likely to produce much excitement.
This means a low turnout for the primary election and the general election to follow. And, because the overwhelming majority of those who turn out to vote in any election in our county are of one party, the outcomes of both the August primary election and the November general election have already been determined now in May – rather than in August and November.
As Don Meredith used to say when he was on the Monday Night Football broadcast team, “Turn out the lights. The party’s over.” With the exception of that contested commissioner’s race which will be decided in the primary election, 94 of us decided in early May who will be elected to county office this coming November. Ninety-four party faithful decided who is going to run our county for the next FOUR years.
Heaven forbid, this is not a plea for the other party to become stronger. At the national level, it has drifted so far from the traditional values of our rural county that few locals will confess to membership. It can almost hold its county convention a phone booth.
Yet, the lack of a true two-party system is not necessarily bad. If the majority party is vital and active and stays in tune with the values of the citizens and is truly representative of their interests, one-party rule can and does work. Unfortunately, the dismally low attendance at the precinct meetings and the county assembly is more indicative of complacency than vitality.
This complacency brings to mind the story of the boy who never spoke a word for his first eight years. Then, one evening at the family dinner table, he said, “Please pass the salt.” His parents were astonished and they asked, “Son, why haven’t you ever spoken before? “Because,” he responded, “everything’s been okay up to now.”
Apparently, the vast majority hasn’t felt the need for additional salt. But present trends never continue forever. Someday, there will be differences of opinion. Someday, one or more elected officials will do something really stupid or corrupt. That will be the day when we need alert, informed and politically active citizens to take corrective action.
Politically, many Americans are like the boy who never spoke a word for eight years. They only get politically active when things are not okay any more. Until then, the less than 100 folks who gave up a sunny spring day to attend their county assembly will continue to call all the shots. But the faithful 94 did care enough to attend and, by so doing, earned the right to determine who will hold county office for the next four years.
William Hamilton, a nationally syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today, is the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy by William Penn – two novels about terrorism directed against American interests.
©2002. William Hamilton