Local voters need and deserve local visions
June 2, 2021
Good news: La Conner residents will have choices and decisions to make in the November town council elections. All three positions on the ballot are contested. The updated story about candidates filing on page 1 correctly reports that incumbents John Leaver, Bill Stokes and MaryLee Chamberlain are challenged by Ivan Carlson, Rick Dole and Glen Johnson respectively.
Likewise, the Fire District 13 commissioner 2 position is between Eric Day and John Doyle, appointed in April.
This is what democracy looks like. Each candidate is unique and brings to the public varied individual interests, experiences, strengths and points of view. Chamberlain, Leaver and Stokes have been on council from seven to 10 years, yet these are the first challenged elections since 2015. Without competition fewer people vote because issues are not addressed and candidates do not have to campaign. Who cares?
Almost all local elections, for town offices, school board and Fire District 13 have been appointed seat holders running unopposed in the last five-plus years. The one exception was 2019’s La Conner School District election, when attentive voters overwhelmingly voted out incumbents seen as close allies of then Superintendent Whitney Meissner.
Is controversy needed to gain people’s attention?
That might be the case now. Good. Letters in this and last week’s Weekly News question the selling of the Hedlin property. The issues of ballfields, greenspace, housing, affordable housing, economic development and La Conner kids in La Conner’s schools are critical to everyone’s future, whether children are in your family or not.
Residents become local voters every two years. The best voters are informed, vocal and insisting that the candidates they vote for listen to, interact with and represent them. That cannot be the case when those in office are automatically elected. Then candidates do not campaign and elections are a mere formality, all but ignored by everyone except the office holder.
Councilmembers here are very much part-time, but these three have been advocating for and making decisions on residents’ behalf for a long time. Are they leading where people want to go? As for the challengers, what is the path forward that they are offering?
Voters have five months to hear, read, ask questions and consider what each candidate’s view and vision is for La Conner next year and the next decade and beyond.
What is the future direction for La Conner? When people say they want affordable housing, what does that mean? Are there visions, goals and plans attached to the phrase? Similarly, whether it is economic development or the number of school aged kids living within La Conner’s boundaries, both residents and candidates need to be thinking about the future and explaining why they want to get us there, what “there” will look like and why these are the best persons to move this town in that direction.
Residents in Fire District 13 on both sides of the channel have the same obligation to learn about John Doyle and Eric Day, so they can elect the most qualified person.
Contested elections are good for everyone, voters and candidates alike. What are the priorities of the people asking to shape government policy and oversee taxpayer dollars? What are residents advocating for? All of a sudden the governed are paying attention to those governing them. Our local decision makers need to pay attention to the people whose votes they seek.
The election creates an opportunity for residents to voice their interests and insist that candidates explain theirs.
La Conner residents need to hear what future these candidates would lead us into. More, candidates need to reach out and learn what people want the town to be in 2030 and 2040 and beyond. It is best if the town council leads in the direction they know citizens want to be taken.