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Josh Bergeron: In 2019, consider differences between candidates

As of Friday afternoon and after one week of filing, there were nearly 40 official candidates for municipal office in Rowan County.

And each one deserves a word of thanks for stepping up to serve their communities. For the pressure and responsibility of serving on a town board or city council, officeholders receive minimal pay. There will be meetings that last late into the night and hours of reading about and listening to discussions about critical topics for the future of a city in a largely empty council chamber.

But those made by council members won’t be the only important choices. Equally important will be the options in front of voters in the voting booth in November. A choice between two candidates could mean a different future, particularly when one council member’s vote decides a divisive issue.

That’s why voters should focus on differences between the candidates on the ballot just as much as the basic platforms candidates espouse.

Candidates will say things like, “I want to bring businesses to town” or, “There are exciting things happening and I want to be a part of that.”

To the first statement, voters should respond with: “What kind of businesses?” “Where should they go in town?” and “What strategies will you use to encourage growth?”

And while many candidates will say new businesses are desirable, voters should know whether someone favors contained growth or a more hands-off approach. The China Grove mayor’s race (so far) is a good example. Mayor Lee Withers told reporter Samuel Motley in a story published Friday (“China Grove mayor draws challenger in Nov. election”) that he sees himself as a more aggressive, direct and not-as-patient candidate when it comes to economic growth. Meanwhile, challenger and incumbent Councilman Charles Seaford said he wants to give the town a strong foundation for growth while also keeping a small-town atmosphere.

While that’s not a perfect comparison (I feel certain Withers also values China Grove’s small-town feel), it’s an example of a difference that will help guide voters in 2019.

So those who live in one of Rowan’s 10 municipalities should get engaged and ask questions between now and Nov. 5. In some places, Faith and Salisbury for example, all spots on the town board or City Council will be on the ballot. In others, staggered terms mean only a few spots are open.

Too many times when reporting on the 2016 elections in Rowan County, voters told me they hadn’t cast a ballot before because he or she felt their vote didn’t matter. Alternatively, voters said they hadn’t voted before because none of the politicians on the ballot inspired them. In 2016, however, many Rowan voters registered and voted for the first time in years, or ever, because Donald Trump said he wasn’t a politician and he wanted to “drain the swamp” — to upend the system.

In municipal elections, every vote truly matters. More than once, just a few votes separated candidates after final tallies come in. In 2017, the difference between Al Heggins receiving the most votes, finishing first and becoming mayor and David Post finishing second and becoming mayor pro tem was just 10 votes.

The overwhelming majority of people who file for municipal office do not intend to use it as a stepping stone to the state legislature, Congress or something greater. The people who file shop at Food Lion or Walmart, go out to dinner at local restaurants, pray in local churches and send their kids to Rowan-Salisbury Schools. The people on municipal ballots are public servants, not politicians.

As we get closer to November, the Post’s reporters will pay careful attention to and write about differences among candidates in addition to the basic stands they take. We plan to write about every race, from Rockwell to Cleveland.

We’ll publish individual stories on candidates leading up to an Oct. 25 special section detailing each race. (Candidates can pick up forms with basic questions for that story at the Rowan County Board of Elections Office when filing or at the Salisbury Post.)  In the meantime, locals can visit the Board of Elections website (rowancountync.gov/191/Elections), where there’s information about who currently sits on the town boards and city councils in Rowan and a running list of who has filed so far.

Rowan County is fortunate that so many people have stepped up to run for elected office already. And I’m hopeful that more candidates throw their hat in the ring before filing ends Friday.

Josh Bergeron is editor of the Salisbury Post. Email him at josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com.

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