Opinion: Your vote matters — can you vote intelligently next month?

Last week, I discussed my displeasure with the recent candidates that we’ve had for the highest office in our nation. I think that I made it clear that we need not only candidates with experience but also men and women who will represent us as knowledgeable and well-spoken diplomats. The successful candidate, the one who is elected, becomes our “face” to the rest of the world and a symbol of the best that our democracy has to offer.


Candidates at that level must endure a great deal of public scrutiny. However, millions of campaign dollars are spent on “spin doctors” and others whose job it is to deflect uncomplimentary information. But sometimes even these media manipulators can’t cover up a candidate’s blemishes. Remember a guy named Gary Hart, U.S. Senator from Colorado who was considered the front-runner for President of the United States during the 1988 campaign? He withdrew from the race because of allegations of an extramarital affair, backed with photographs.


Resignations


You might also remember Spiro Agnew, Vice President of the United States during the Nixon administration. In 1973, he resigned from office amid allegations of financial irregularities. The following year, his previous boss, President Richard Nixon, resigned from office because of his involvement in the Watergate scandal and impending impeachment proceedings.


Of course, both of the events drew huge headlines both nationally and abroad. Smaller, yet disturbing, headlines accompanied the resignations of George Tenet and Michael D. Brown. In 2004, Tenet resigned as Director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency for “personal reasons.” The resignation came after criticisms of the CIA’s misleading “intelligence” that led to the Iraq War.


Michael D. Brown, Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), resigned in 2006 due to his mismanagement of operations following Hurricane Katrina. Katrina was a Category 5 hurricane that caused more than 1,800 deaths and $125 billion in damages, especially to the city of New Orleans.


In 2008, Eliot Spitzer resigned from his office as Governor of New York. The New York Times reported that Spitzer frequented $1,000-an-hour call girls and had paid up to $80,000 for prostitutes over a period of several years, both when he was Attorney General and Governor of the state.


Robert J. Bentley served two terms in the Alabama House of Representatives before being elected Governor of Alabama in 2010. He was re-elected in 2014, but in 2016 he faced impeachment proceedings because of an extramarital affair. The investigation turned up evidence of violations of both ethics and campaign-finance laws. Bentley resigned in 2017.


In 2018, Al Franken resigned his position as United States Senator from Minnesota due to accusations of sexual misconduct. That same year, Eric Greitens resigned as Governor of Missouri because of allegations of sexual misconduct and the misuse of a charity donor list.


Last year, Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York, faced charges of sexual harassment, which he initially denied. At the time, there was serious talk about his competent handling of the COVID-19 crisis in his state and his potential as the next Democratic nominee for President of the United States. But, as scrutiny into his affairs escalated, he resigned from office.


Local politics


My point is that, at every level of government, undesirable characteristics emerge even among candidates who have been carefully vetted and reviewed in the media. However, we know very little about many local candidates who will be on our June ballot.


In the past, we have had our local scandals, from grossly overpaid bureaucrats to extramarital affairs. At the time, our local newspaper had at least some staff to keep us informed about allegations, accusations, and factual evidence. That hasn’t been true since Chuck Doud, publisher and editor of the Tribune died more than a year ago. Our local paper does not have the staff to cover City Council meetings or Board of Supervisor meetings. We have no investigative reporters.


One month from today, we will be asked to cast our vote for the following local public offices: Judge of the Superior Court, Office 1; County Supervisor District 1; County Supervisor District 2, County Supervisor District 5; Assessor; Auditor-Controller; County Clerk-Recorder; District Attorney; Sheriff-Coroner; Superintendent of Schools; and Tax Collector-Treasurer. Do you know who any of the candidates are for these offices? Do you know what qualifications are necessary and appropriate to hold any of these offices? Do you know how many tax dollars are paid out in salary and benefits for each of these positions?


My understanding is that the salaries for the members of the Board of Supervisors are tied to the salaries of Superior Court Judges. If that is true, I wonder how that determination was made. And each supervisor also has a well-paid Chief of Staff. In 2018, one such Chief of Staff made $74,708 in base salary and received benefits of $26,509, for a total compensation of $101,217. These protocols are often made in the absence of public knowledge.


There was a time when our county administrative officer was paid more than $360,000 a year, and our city manager was paid an annual salary that was nearly $340,000. The former city manager now receives a pension of nearly $200,000 a year. There is so little oversight of local politics that County Auditor-Controller Todd E. Miller actually moved to the state of Washington during his term of office. He resigned on Feb. 28, 2022, according to DJ Becker, a former Tribune reporter, writing for another news service.


Finally, let’s look at the position of County Assessor. I could not find any place that states the qualifications for this position, but there are at least two candidates who are running for the office. Brett Frazier has served on the Madera City Council and the County Board of Supervisors. I don’t know that either of the political offices qualifies a person to be an assessor.


Jorge Torres is running for the same office based on his nine years of experience and his certification as a property appraiser for the State Board of Equalization. He is currently a full-time employee in the Madera County Assessor’s office.


This is more information than I have about candidates who are running for most of the other offices that will be on my June ballot. How can I possibly vote intelligently? How can you?


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Jim Glynn is Professor Emeritus of Sociology. He may be contacted at j_glynn@att.net.