February 18, 2011



Not voting? Itís understandable
by Bruce Rodgers

Come the evening of Feb. 22, two things will become fact. Two people will have be chosen to run against each other on March 22 for mayor of Kansas City, MO, and voter turnout will be dismal. At least on the surface, a minority of citizens will have made the decision.

With the low numbers, there will be the appropriate amount of head shaking and eyes will peer into the sky as if to look for divine guidance. Business and public officials will bemoan the lack of involvement, and then nothing will change. Like something from the movie Groundhog Day, with each election cycle, the situation of low voter turnout will repeat itself.

Political scientists, sociologists, media talking heads, politicos of all stripes will debate as they always do, for a short time, the reasons. It’s about convenience they say — move voting to a weekend day, let people vote online and by mail, and have open primaries. Rarely does anyone ask the question: Do people not vote because they don’t believe it does any good?

As diverse as our country, our city is, diversity is never totally reflected in the candidates running for office. A degree of homogenization always exists, brought about because of the dominant two-party system and the need of money to run an effective political campaign. Even in nonpartisan elections as with the Kansas City, MO city council and mayoral races, the level of homogenization is high.

That’s not to say that those running for mayor are carbon copies of each other or are not good people. What it means is that the confines in which they will work to govern, if elected, is all pretty much the same no matter who takes office. Politics and holding public office is a board game of sorts, most routes to successful outcomes are well defined, the signposts are marked, manned by people well-versed in spelling out the rules one has to follow to gain a particular result. Go off on a new track, disregard or follow a set of different rules, and nothing much seems to get done.

Newcomers to politics sometimes find that out. Current Mayor Funkhouser surely did, and if Henry Klein and to a lesser extent Sly James got elected, they would find out too if they attempted to deviate for the established political board game in KC.

For voters this question largely is irrelevant. The public seeks outcomes and if it takes a new way to get there, the public can be convinced to go along if they view the elected official as sincere. Special interests, however, want to protect the process. Outcomes need to and can be managed, and even enhanced in its benefits with the right PR campaign.

For a long time, the public has sensed that outcomes have been managed, be it nationally or in Kansas City. When a candidate comes along, like Funkhouser or Obama, hope rises, along with voter turnout because the outsider is seen as someone less likely to manage outcomes to protect the special interests. But in truth, the peoples’ interest and special interests aren’t the same.

Kansas City faces a host of serious problems, not unlike other major American cities. None of the mayoral candidates seem compelled to really talk about the danger of losing the earnings tax and what alternative the city has to save basic services. The quality of public education remains the single, biggest obstacle to keeping and increasing the middle class and the family environment in Kansas City, particularly within the Kansas City School District. Yet none of the candidates seem to dare suggest a state or city takeover of the district. Crime, particularly the killing of young African American men, is tragedy for this community. Yet none of the candidates seem able to explain why having a police department controlled by the state makes this a safer city. And the talk is endless about the flow of drugs but no one dares talk about controlling the avalanche of guns.

The candidates will talk all day about a need for a new convention hotel or why the Plaza has to be protected. Yet, the other stuff — the stuff that matters day to day for most folks — that’s a little harder to deal with and not well mapped out on the city’s established political board game.

If you stay home Tuesday, Feb. 22, and not vote, it’s understandable.

Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at publisher_editeKC@kcactive.com.