by Max Brantley
The beginning of 2014 marks the start of another election year, although modern election cycles seem to run beyond any 12-month calendar. This also begins my last year in political office, a career that started with the 1982 election when I ran unopposed for the State Senate. Much has changed in Arkansas politics in the 32 years since then, but two realities remain true: we still need good people to stand for office and serve, and Arkansas campaigning remains a directly personal effort.
Elected public service has continued to become a less appealing pursuit for many Americans and Arkansans in recent years. Increasingly strident ideologies and political gridlock have only compounded cynicism toward government. This is especially true on the federal level, where members of Congress seem to bicker more and more while accomplishing less and less with each passing year.
On the State level, we've just finished a year featuring three high-profile cases of State officials misusing taxpayer and/or campaign monies in violation of the public trust. This further erodes our citizens' confidence in government, and can taint the image of other public officials whose actions are ethical and responsible. Public service does not carry the prestige it once did in America. And for years I have implored young professionals, students and concerned citizens to help change that for our nation to reach its full potential and stay competitive globally.
While insincere and divisive rhetoric has crept into Arkansas politics, it has advanced slower here because our politics remain retail and local. Even in a state of nearly three million, voters are more likely to meet their candidates face to face. Arkansans historically make their choices based on the persons they can best relate to and take at their word rather than by following party labels. Most want the truth, regardless of whether or not it's what they want to hear. Unfortunately, some politicians continue taking the opposite tactic, setting unachievable standards, or vowing to take on fights that are outside the purview of their office. In the end, our voters see whether accomplishments in office match promises on the campaign trail.
Just as important as having knowledgeable candidates with good intentions is having an informed and active electorate. Even though we enjoy the benefits of living in the United States and in Arkansas, often fewer than 40-percent of us take part in the democratic process. Sometimes, the low voter turnout results from frustration with politics and the political process. But just as often, people with limited time available between work and caring for families simply don't make voting a high priority. For our government to provide the best services and policies, it is imperative that the electorate understands the issues and chooses the right people to address them.
Arkansas has a lot of good public officials, and I've had the pleasure of working with men and women on both sides of the aisle who have made our State proud, including in the year just ended. With ever-increasing outside money influencing the election process, however, we have to remain vigilant about knowing where campaign information comes from. And we must engage our candidates, so that we have the most confidence possible when voting this November. It is our privilege and our obligation.