Published 12:00 am Friday, June 29, 2007

Plato said those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.
It’s not that elected officials are dimwits, not by a long shot. But their passion for principles and community override the natural reflex: “Who, me? No way!”
This is for the people who repress that reflex.
Filing starts at noon Friday for elections in Rowan County’s 10 municipalities ó a fitting activity for the week of the Fourth of July.
Last month the Post co-sponsored a Candidate Academy with the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce and Catawba College. It was for people considering a run for office or just curious about government.
Dr. Michael Bitzer, assistant professor of political science and history at Catawba, gave the 20 people there an overview of what it means to be an elected city official and some basics of campaigning.
It was Local Civics 101 ó not how a bill becomes law in Congress, but how democracy works at the most basic level.
If you’re thinking of ruling the world from a seat on the board of aldermen, think again. You won’t be debating stem cell research, abortion or the war.
Bitzer outlined three roles for local government:
– Protect the individual and the public as a whole through law enforcement and fire protection.
– Provide services such as streets, water and sewer, trash collection, cultural and leisure-time activities.
– Economic development of the community.
These are nonpartisan races, which gives them a different flavor from races for county commission, legislature and Congress. The only parties you can consistently recognize are the in crowd and the out crowd ó the people already in office, and the ones who think they can do it better.
President John Kennedy could have told you a little about that. “When we got into office,” he said, “the thing that surprised me the most was that things were as bad as we’d been saying they were.”
And fixing those situations is often a lot tougher than candidates realize.
Besides getting elected, candidates also need to concern themselves with staying on the right side of election laws. Bitzer recommended that every candidate get a copy of “The 2006-07 Campaign Finance Manual: A Guide for Ensuring Compliance,” available from the Board of Elections.
Do sweat the details, because there are a lot of them. State law mandates that:
– The most a person can give per candidate per election is $4,000.
– Any campaign contribution over $50 must be in the form of a check ó a new requirement ó and must be reported.
(A corollary: Any supporter who gives a candidate more than $50 can expect his or her name to appear on a report that is a public document.)
– The candidate himself (or herself) and spouse, parents or siblings my contribute unlimited amounts.
– Political parties are exempt from the contribution limit.
– A candidate whose campaign does not raise or spend more than $3,000 does not have to file disclosure reports. A certification report will do.
– Every candidate must appoint a treasurer ó anyone but the candidate’s spouse, for some reason ówho must be trained by the State Board of Elections within three months of appointment.
– Every campaign ad must state who paid for the ad, whether it’s the candidate, the candidate’s committee or an independent sponsor. In newspaper ads, that disclosure must be 5 percent of the height of the ad with 12-point type.
That’s what you call precise.
If you’re going to run for office, get a photo of yourself and submit it to the paper when you file. Our photographers will take your photo for free, but they are not always here, and you won’t get to choose which photo goes in the paper.
Get to know which reporter will be writing about your race and contact that person as soon as you file. Here’s a list:
– China Grove: Jessie Burchette.
– Cleveland: Sandy Greene.
– East Spencer: Scott Jenkins.
– Faith and Granite Quarry: Holly Fesperman Lee.
– Kannapolis: Hugh Fisher.
– Landis and Rockwell: Shavonne Potts.
– Salisbury: Mark Wineka.
– Spencer: Steve Huffman.
Call us if you have questions. And take a pointer from a list Bitzer shared at the close of the Candidate Academy. It’s on Tip O’Neill’s political checklist. “It’s a round world ó what goes around comes around.”
Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.