As elections near, voters should take ownership of special opportunity

 

Over the next nine months, Georgia and its counties and cities will see election contests for their executive, legislative and judicial offices.

In the executive branch, there will be races not only for governor, but also for secretary of state, attorney general, commissioner of agriculture, state school superintendent, our local mayor’s office and many sheriffs’ offices. In the legislative branch we’ll see a dynamic race for an open U.S. Senate seat as well as contests for the U.S. House of Representatives, state legislature, county commission posts and boards of education. In the judicial branch many judgeships are on the ballot, too.

 

AS CITIZENS OF A democracy, each of us should welcome the election process and pledge never to fail to vote in the primary elections as well as the general elections and runoffs. Whenever citizens forgo the right to vote, our communities are denied the opportunity to install the most capable people to serve our communities.

Many citizens will offer themselves as candidates for the first time, and some will be vying again for an opportunity to serve. Regardless of political experience, the process of campaigning for public office is daunting – not only for the candidate but also for those who love and support them. The challenge stimulates the full panoply of human emotions, including fear, newfound courage, doubt and determination.

 

THE ENCOURAGEMENT of friends and family is the source of the candidate’s strength in seemingly endless campaigns that can bring physical and emotional fatigue. But a perception of campaigns as the competitive equivalent of guerrilla warfare is not very accurate. Competition and adversity frequently create a unique and lasting bond among opponents in political races. It is quite common that they learn mutual respect and develop abiding friendships. Perhaps that revelation will prepare the candidates and their supporters to avoid unnecessary hyperbole during the upcoming campaigns.

Although potential voters may disagree with candidates or their platforms (those who choose not to vote are not entitled to an opinion), we always should remember that every candidate performs a valuable service by causing the issues to be considered and discussed. Through the campaigns of all candidates – the winners and those who will be disappointed – our democracy is awakened, and we gain a fresh appreciation for the dignity of one another. While candidates may find it necessary to strike hard blows, there is never an excuse for striking foul blows.

Diligent candidates commonly approach those who have been elected to office for advice about the process. In that way they learn from experience of others where to concentrate their efforts, avoid mistakes and best use campaign funds. In my experience, elected officials always have been accommodating and generous with advice, even if that advice may not be what the candidate expected.

There are two things that “first-timers” should know about such conversations.

 

FIRST, ELECTED officials who serve the same constituents as the candidate in a contested election always try to honor those constituents. It is very uncommon to find an elected official outwardly campaigning for a candidate for another office for the obvious reason that his or her constituents may strongly support the candidate’s opponent, unnecessarily interfusing the issues of one office or branch of government with another. The reluctance of an elected official to openly endorse a candidate has nothing to do with the respect for the candidate, but instead reflects the respect the elected official has for his or her constituents and the office he or she serves.

Second, Georgia’s judges are prohibited by the Code of Judicial Conduct from publicly endorsing a candidate for public office; soliciting funds or making contributions to a political organization; or purchasing tickets for political party dinners. When the judge is a candidate, the judge may attend political gatherings and speak to such gatherings on his own behalf. I’m sure I speak for every judge in saying that we welcome conversations with candidates and potential candidates, but that willingness to offer advice and encouragement should not be confused with an endorsement that would violate our Judicial Code of Conduct.

 

I FREQUENTLY TELL those considering a run for office that they should do it if, after consulting their families, they can commit to the grueling campaign and, once elected, to the highest level of service to the offices they seek. In the process, they will learn a lot about themselves and they will undoubtedly grow from the experience.

I now encourage voters to take ownership of the election process that is theirs, thereby dignifying our Constitution and those who have given their lives and their treasure to ensure that it endures.

 

(The writer – a former district attorney for the Augusta Judicial Circuit – has been a superior court judge in the circuit since 2008.)

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