No voters’ pamphlet means you are the researcher
July 16, 2009 · Updated 4:22 PM
Once again, the time of yard signs, candidate forums, TV advertisements, mail flyers and “issues” is upon us. This is an odd year (the date, not the attitude), so we get to sort through a variety of “non-partisan” races for city councils, mayors, school boards, water districts, port districts and the like. As voters, we tend to pay little or no attention to these races because we don’t see the impact on our lives and our futures. Our lack of concern and attention is unfortunate because many of the offices in contention have major impacts on what happens in our community and to our pocketbooks. The people we are electing in these races wind up with the authority to raise your taxes and spend your money. They also have the authority to establish the level of service you receive from the agency they serve. And then there are the unintended consequences of elections.
I want to take a look at one office up for consideration, not to deal with the candidates, but to examine what the office really entails. Let’s look at the Bremerton Port Commissioner. This is a six-year term office and there are three commissioners. The Port deals with the marinas in Port Orchard and Bremerton, the Bremerton National Airport, properties and buildings in the South Kitsap Industrial Area and other properties within its jurisdictional boundaries. The Port has taxing authority and sets fees for certain services provided at its facilities. The Port has a current annual budget of about $27 million. Port operations are not currently revenue self-sufficient and tax dollars support some portion of those costs.
Most of us are familiar with tax levies that go before the voters for approval. The Port is not constrained to get voter approval. You may recall the Port increased taxes by about an additional one-half to the consternation and anger of the voters. Of course, the voters exercised their right to recourse and voted out of office the first commissioner next up for election, after the increase. However, with a six-year term, it is difficult to effectively demonstrate disfavor in a timely manner for all commissioners.
Unknown to many voters is the additional role and powers exercised by some Port commissioners and City Council members. The Port of Bremerton has voting representation on the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council and the Puget Sound Regional Council. Although their elected position has no involvement in county-wide land use or transportation planning, the membership on these regional organizations extends their power. There may be some question about the advisability of extending such powers to an individual holding office that does not include those powers, but the reality is the situation exists and the voter needs to be aware. Now, not only is the voter selecting a Port commissioner, but may also be electing an individual to dabble in other areas of governance. The importance of electing the proper person becomes more critical.
Which brings us to the issue of non-partisan elections. The office may be non-partisan but the office holder is not. As a voter, you need to know the underlying core political philosophy of the candidates. Instead of having a party label to provide an indication, you need to ask. You need to know where a candidate stands on those core principles important to you so you can assess how they might act on solving a problem or addressing a situation. The only way to find out is to attend a forum or ask the candidate directly. You can no longer rely on the voter pamphlet to give you some clue.
The county auditor, in a “cost-cutting” move, has eliminated the voter pamphlet mailed to each household prior to ballot mailing. Instead, each candidate will have a short TV spot broadcast on cable TV. The probability of connecting with the televised voters’ pamphlet for most voters is very low. If you want to be informed, for this election, you will have to make the extra effort to find out for yourself.
Please get educated and vote. If you do not vote, you only have yourself to blame for the outcomes.
Jack Hamilton can be reached at email@example.com.