Wed October 3, 2012
Commentary: Politics Is Not a Spectator Sport
One of the greatest expressions of American democracy is going to the polls on election day and casting your vote. Yet, low voter turnout cast a shadow over the Kentucky May Primary. Commentator Richard Nelson says the health of the Commonwealth depends on citizen involvement in the election.
The biggest news in the sports world over the past three weeks regards replacement referees in the NFL. Complaints over poor officiating reached a fever pitch after a horrendous last-second call cost my hometown Green Bay Packers a victory last Monday night. In the big scheme of things, it was only a game. The regular referees are back on the job and all seems right with the NFL. But… there is something more important than pro-sports, close games and officiating crews. It’s the November election. And a lot more rides on that contest than on what happened last Monday night.
Distractions from every direction entice us away from the political arena and many will conjure excuses not to vote. Extreme partisanship and “my team at any cost” mentality have driven many good people away. It happens everywhere, including in the NFL. Last year the New Orleans Saints were caught placing bounties on opposing quarterbacks and rewarding their players for crippling their opponents. The rules were broken and the Saints harshly penalized, yet NFL Nation has overlooked the debacle, found their easy chairs and resumed fantasy league play. Not so forgiving is the electorate toward the political process.
Politics and the business of governing are not spectator sports and too much is at stake to sit on the sidelines. When a candidate is playing dirty pool, voters need to throw the flag. And it should be a 10 yard penalty for voters who simply berate politicians and point fingers yet never show up at the polls to vote. Excuses for disengaging are growing old. Even if voters have to take a shower after enduring a season of political mudslinging, it’s a contest worth engaging. After all, the future of our Commonwealth is at stake and the only fantasy league involves those who think citizenship duties aren’t for them.
Compared to other states, Kentucky ranks poorly. In education, health and personal prosperity, we could be doing better. Much better. According to the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Tax Reform, the state is facing a billion dollar budget shortfall in eight years unless the tax structure changes. The state pension system is severely underfunded and threatens future retirements for thousands of Kentuckians. A course correction is desperately needed. And guess who is in the driver seat? Before you mention any one candidate, remember who it is who fuels our leaders into office by going to the polls.
There are five weeks until the election and it’s incumbent upon every Kentuckian to exercise their civic duty, educate themselves about the candidates and vote. Sadly, only around 14 percent of Kentuckians bothered to turn out in the May primary. Let’s face it, there will never be a perfect candidate for any office. Even when the top of the ticket fails to motivate there are still down-ticket races to vote in. Races for city council, circuit clerk, state representative, state senator, and congress will also be on the ballot in many counties.
Politics and elections may not be the arena every individual is inclined to. Nonetheless, it is an arena every one of us finds ourselves in whether we like it or not, and we play a huge role. Citizens are not quite referees and politics may not be as entertaining as an NFL game, but voters will make the final call on November 6, and this election is much more important than a game.
Richard Nelson is th executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center, a non-profit public policy group. He resides in Trigg County with his wife and children.