It’s hard not to respect candidates for local elective office, especially in small communities like Manteca.
They put a lot on the line. And unlike their brethren that seek county, state and national offices they are under scrutiny around the clock by neighbors, supporters and detractors.
Say what you may about Steve DeBrum, Ben Cantu, Richard Silverman, Vince Hernandez or Mike Morowit, but at the end of the day they are putting everything from their sanity to egos on the line. Vilify them if you want, but they are willing to take the risk of becoming the target of vicious attacks, character assassination, and innuendos just because they express viewpoints that others may not embrace.
I can honestly say “been there and done that.”
I ran and was elected to the Western Placer Unified School District board when I was 19. I beat an entrenched incumbent of 16 years by more than 300 votes.
I did so by going door-to-door handing out a pamphlet and buying newspaper ads that used charts employing enrollment, tax, and bonding capacity data to tear apart the financial and growth assumptions of a school bond that the superintendent said was vital. He was pushing to place the bond measure on the ballot again after it had failed two years prior in 1972.
A funny thing about the bond needed to replace “deteriorating” classrooms and address the massive projected growth in population. It didn’t surface again for more than 20 years. All the health and safety issues were addressed out of the general fund and the growth was more reasonable and wasn’t doubling enrollment every seven years as the district claimed.
My positions obviously didn’t make me popular with some people. Nor did an effort to raise money in the community coupled with county park fees and volunteer labor to rehab the Lincoln High track and create three softball fields and a baseball field on land bought 20 years prior for expansion of the high school. That effort also included painting the exterior of the high school that hadn’t been painted for 25 years as well as plant landscaping. A campus looks rundown if all it consists of is asphalt, concrete, and a few mulberry trees and has stucco, wood and metal that hasn’t been painted since the campus was built.
At one point there was a petition circulated by a retired teacher to have me recalled because she didn’t want additional improvements at the high school because it was across from where she lived. I’ll admit it bothered me but what was perhaps the thing that bugged me the most were people who said they were 100 percent behind me and the project but signed the petition. I found out later they signed it just to get the individuals out of their store.
The recall petition went nowhere. I had no opposition when I sought my second and final term.
During my tenure on the school board I had people who were a little too passionate get in my face. I was told – more than once – if I had no kids in school I had no business being on a school board. (My comeback was I’d resign when I was exempted from paying any tax that went to support education.)
In short, you have to develop a thick skin. If not, all of the needling will drive you crazy.
That said, the nice thing about local elections is what you see is what you get.
Sweeping statements aside such as “people don’t know who they are voting for so they vote for the incumbents” or “career bureaucrats were part of the problem” – broad swipes at both DeBrum and Cantu – people on the local level do know what they are getting when they cast votes.
There’s no hiding what any of the five candidates have done with their lives in Manteca. You may not like what they say, but they are saying it and not some political machine.
All five – whether you agree with them are not – are running because they believe they have the right answers or are capable of doing what is best when push comes to shove for Manteca.
Manteca is their home. It’s not a rung on a ladder.
Those marrying personal attacks with what they view as legitimate criticism only dilute the potency of their message of wanting a different course of action.
When I got on the board, there were often 4-1 votes with me in the minority.
Several years later there were 3-2 votes. Eventually that shifted to 4-1 with me in the majority and even 5-0 votes.
Did I get exactly what I set out to do in each case? No. Did the opposition? No. But we got to a better place where more people could agree to a solution. It’s a novel thing called compromise. You don’t get their by name calling, losing your cool, being disrespectful or simply waiting once a month or every two weeks to push your point.
Change doesn’t happen simply because you want it to happen. Nor does a “better” course hold if you build it through intimidation tactics instead of building consensus.
The funny thing is that personal attacks tend to encourage long memories not with the person you are essentially attacking but in their supporters.
And if you are convinced someone is the devil then try this on for size: Next time run for office yourself. The experience might just mellow you a bit.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209.249.3519.