Where are the candidates?

Jeff vonKaenel

This November, when Sacramento-area voters are ready to chose who should oversee their schools, their cities and their utility company, they will face an unusual problem: low candidate turnout.

The school board elections are the worst. There is not a single contested school board race in Sacramento City, San Juan or Folsom Cordova Unified School Districts. According to the Sacramento Bee, this has not happened in more than 20 years.

Running for Sacramento City Council, Eric Guerra was unopposed. City Council members Allen Warren, Steve Hansen and Larry Carr had only nominal opposition and all won more than 50 percent in the primary, thus avoiding a November election.

Across the river, longtime West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon is staying in office, with no opposition.

Meanwhile, so are SMUD board members Nancy Bui-Thompson and Rob Kerth.

Even in the races where there are two candidates, many have already been decided. The challengers will not be able to raise enough money to run a serious campaign. Doris Matsui and John Garamendi will be returned to Congress. Ken Cooley, Jim Cooper and Kevin McCarty will return to the Assembly.

Are Sacramento residents just really satisfied with the way the schools and local government are currently being run? I doubt it.

The lack of local candidates, especially viable candidates, is a problem. Without candidates and without a community discussion of vital issues, how can we make the best decisions about how to run our schools and government?

I am not surprised that citizens are not stepping up to the plate. The process of running for office thoroughly sucks.

First, there’s the money. The amount of money needed to run for office is obscene. Two years ago, $200,000 was spent in Sacramento City Unified School District races. Close to $2 million was spent in the recent Sacramento mayor’s race. Is it any surprise that no one wants to challenge the incumbents this time around? Who wants to make all those fundraising phone calls?

Secondly, campaigning sucks. If you decide to run for office, if past history is any guide, the campaign will likely go negative. A large chunk of your opponent’s war chest will be used to convince voters that you are some sort of monster. Roger Dickinson was unfavorably linked to the deaths of children under the care of the Sacramento County Child Protection Agency. Darrell Steinberg was attacked in a series of mailers attempting to tie him to corruption and incorrectly accusing him of being anti-farmworker. Who needs this kind of grief?

And as if this wasn’t bad enough, the elected then have to serve. While the job is interesting and it must be cool making important decisions, the meetings are long and often very dull. I once told then-Sacramento County Supervisor Roger Niello that he was doing the work of God, because after taking my young daughter to a Regional Transit meeting, she told me that it was even more boring than church, something that she had previously thought was impossible.

Possibly dull, but vitally important. The lack of candidates in this year’s election is a clear danger sign. And this is the point in the column where I would hope to offer a solution.

But I do not have an idea to throw into the ring. The incumbent wins again, for lack of an opponent.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.