Listening to the candidates


It’s amazing what you can see when your nose isn’t in a typewriter.

Usually at political forums I’m typing 70 miles an hour to document all the politics and the monotonous stuff next to nobody cares about.

It’s a battle against hand cramps, carpal tunnel syndrome and general frustration for sitting in one place for so long.

A few weeks ago I left the keyboard at home. My partner in crime Ben Nelms covered the forum for the Republican Post 4 candidates. I sat back and watched, scribbling a few handwritten notes in my “other” role as a resident of the new 4th District.

Thanks to district voting, this is the only shot I’ll get at electing one of the five BoE members, so I needed the skinny … and what better chance than to hear all four candidates at the same time?

We should note here that the Democrats have just one candidate, and we’ll have that election in November. These four Republican candidates are duking it out in the May elections, so there’s a sense of urgency here.

There’s a tremendous amount at stake. The BoE spends the most of all our governments and the reputation of our school system is a precious thing. Then there’s the tangled matter of having my two kiddos in our public schools, and a wife who is employed as a Fayette school teacher … along with my interest as president of the Spring Hill Elementary School Council.

The best part of being “off duty” at the forum was the opportunity to truly listen and digest what each candidate had to say. Freed from glorified stenography, my mind was an open book. Right before the festivities began, I started to worry. What exactly was I looking for in a school board member?

Turns out I needn’t have worried. When the final bell had rung, one candidate stood far and above the rest. This candidate had done the homework and when there was a chance to score cheap political points, this candidate instead told it like it was, even though it didn’t match with the political agendas of a few folks in the room.

I generally value truth-telling above all else, and I also appreciate someone who’s done the legwork in advance.

Truth be told, it’s an awful inconvenience to stick your neck out there and run for election. You might as well paint a bullseye on your back and buy a flak jacket because politics around here can get downright vicious.

Each candidate at the forum had something meaningful to contribute in his or her own way, but if I only get to pick one of the five board member amigos every four years, I have to choose the very best.

I’m not about to share my pick here. Y’all are smart enough to make up your own minds, and my friends can find me on Facebook or via email. I urge the rest of you to do your homework and judge which candidate is best prepared to hit the ground running.

• Which candidate seems of an even keel, willing to listen to several sides of an issue before making a decision?

• Which candidate seems like he or she would work well with others?

• Which candidate has done their homework and is prepared for just about any loaded question you can lob at them?

• Which, if any, candidate seems to have a political agenda or ax to grind that goes beyond the scope of the BoE’s responsibilities and control? Our schoolchildren are too important to get caught in politics.

Those are just a few considerations, but they are important ones. They are handy because they can be applied to all voting decisions and perhaps we’ll get the very best people for these positions.

To my fellow Post 4 citizens: Good luck. We’re all counting on you.


Speaking of politics, have I ever told you my grandfather was once a state representative in Kentucky?

Last week I was presented a copy of a newspaper article and an editorial that appeared in the Uniontown Telegram March 25, 1932. The man I called “Papa” — whom I could always count on for ice cream money growing up — was lauded for helping Gov. Ruby Laffoon “fight many of his legislative battles” in the 1932 session of the legislature.

According to the article, F. Tyler Munford “successfully engineered” the passage of several key bills “although, he said, they did not entirely meet his personal approval.”

That’s the difference in a statesman and a politician, you see. A statesman realizes he is there to represent ALL of the citizens who live in his district — not just the ones of a particular party who elected him.

We need more statesmen in office, those who take the term “public servant” to heart and in action. I am not sure how we will accomplish this lofty goal given all the money in play in state and U.S. politics.

A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision declared that political contributions are protected as “free speech” and thus you and any company/organization can deliver the maximum $2,600 in contributions to as many candidates as you like.

If contributions are considered free speech, this wretched decision means the voice of the corporations and big business will drown out the speech of “the people.”

This is another reason to ignore candidates who raise the most money: they are beholden to their donors, not to the citizens they represent.

I’m not sure what Papa would have to say about all this big money. But if he were still here, he’d take me out for an ice cream to make me feel better about it.

[John Munford has been a reporter for The Citizen since June 2000. He currently covers Peachtree City and Fayette County governments.]