Commentary: As election nears, major questions left hanging

By on November 3, 2017

 Another election day is approaching, and Outer Banks residents who live in municipalities are being asked to pick their town governing boards, and in some cases their mayors.

We ran a series of articles where we asked candidates in towns with competitive races to answer questions specific to their towns, as well as some general questions that we felt were important regionally.

You can find links at the end of this article. If you don’t see your town linked, it means the number of candidates running for your town’s board or council are exactly the same as the number of seats up for grabs — making them automatic winners.


For brevity’s sake, the Voice didn’t ask the question set I prefer to ask any candidate running for local office.

For incumbents,  my first question always is: You are asking the voters to keep you in your job. Why should you be re-elected and what makes you a better choice than your opponent?

In this instance, especially at the Town Council or municipal Board of Commissioners level, I dismiss “experience” as a response. After all, with no offices further down the ballot, every current officeholder at this level was a political novice when first elected.

To those challenging an incumbent, I ask a very similar question: Why should we fire your opponent and replace him or her with you?

If it’s an open seat, the question is more direct: Why are you better suited than your opponent or opponents for this office?


It strikes me as odd that we avoid these three questions. Instead, we allow candidates to offer up platitudes about their experience or vision or how they were called to public service in the same spirit as one is called to don cleric’s attire and take vows of poverty.

I suspect many avoid taking this path out of fear. A fear that answering such a question would require one to be critical of their opponent and lead to the tone and tenor we witnessed in the days leading to the last presidential election.

But the truth of the matter is, incumbents believe they deserve to govern again, and challengers must believe the current officeholder needs to be replaced.


Otherwise, why challenge them?

For the open race scenario, both could lay claim to being called to serve, but each still believes they would make a better officeholder than their opponents.

So why not tell us why your features and benefits are superior to the others?

Alas, that will not be the case.

First of all, fewer than 20 percent of those eligible will even bother to vote.

And many of us will base our decision, data shows, by tending to re-elect the incumbent, almost automatically, leaving the rest of the pack undifferentiated from one another.

The challengers will be hoping to take advantage of low voter turnout, hoping they can sneak past an incumbent by bringing more of their friends and acquaintances to the poll than the current office holder.

It’s rare that a challenger actually unseats an incumbent over major differences in policies or by pointing out where the incumbent failed and therefore, needs to be replaced.

But few will be talking about the lack of housing for all levels of a workforce that requires a decent, affordable place to live. And how that lack of housing is foreclosing our chances to grow our economy in ways beyond tourism.

We’ll continue to pump waste into failing septic systems, argue about protecting or retreating from our shoreline, and ignore the fact that after two decades of promises, our economy and the jobs it provides are no more diverse than they were in 1999.

The office seekers will tell us they won’t raise taxes while vowing to maintain some elusive Outer Banks architectural “look” that resembles 1890, 1930, 1950, or the 1970’s Outer Banks.

Some will rail against chains and big box stores, but most will talk about achieving some form of non-specific balance in our business mix while waxing nostalgic at the loss of locally owned businesses.

Few of these candidates will have broached the problem of the systemic substance abuse that plagues our area and by default, will fail to address how they might try to combat the problem.

Local zoning departments, some with a reputation for exercising capricious judgement or throwing town codes out the window and embarking on their own ‘Master Vision’ for their fiefdoms will continue to operate as usual, because many are afraid to ask any candidate those kinds of questions and most prefer to leave such issues to the town manager to handle, even though that is an unelected position.

Candidates with a desire to solve problems regionally won’t be identified for the most part because its rare an office-seeker is asked to expound on such a complex subject area.

Lest one take this the wrong way, I’ve nothing but admiration for virtually every candidate running. Many are my friends. All of them are sacrificing tremendous amounts of time to hold office, and I seldom believe any of them are running for mercantile reasons, or for the mere exercise of power.

I’m also not blaming elected officials for failing to deal with the above-named issues.

Rather, the fault lies with us. The residents, citizens, and voters for failing to press these current and would-be public servants for their specific plans and opinions on these all-important issues.

It may too late to ask such questions before you cast your ballot in the 2017 races.

But once the votes are counted, we should expect and demand more from the victors than we have in the past.

We owe it to ourselves to do at least that much.


  • Arthur Pewty

    Outer Banks voters are used to swamps. Even when we thought we were draining one (the Board of Commissioners), all we ended up with was a different swamp.

    Saturday, Nov 4 @ 2:31 pm
  • Brian McDonald

    Well that percentage of voters is just a shame and I’ll bet it’s not far from correct. I would be interested to know if the ones that don’t vote are the ones that complain the loudest about our public officials and the decisions they must make.
    Who was it that said “you’re part of the problem, if you’re not part of the solution?” If you don’t vote then in my opinion you’re definitely part of the problem.
    I liked the questions that should be asked but aren’t.
    Good editorial.

    Saturday, Nov 4 @ 2:42 pm
  • Rick


    Great work and you are correct, the issue is with us.

    For me, I tend to vote for the challenger. I believe that we should do our duty and serve one term then out.

    Sunday, Nov 5 @ 7:41 am
  • dave

    “For brevity’s sake, the Voice didn’t ask the question set I prefer to ask any candidate running for local office.”
    So, why didn’t the Voice ask these questions? They’re valid and reasonable questions. In fact, they should be mandatory questions. Good article.

    Monday, Nov 6 @ 8:47 am
  • Carole

    Excellent article and sadly true all over our country

    Monday, Nov 6 @ 12:16 pm
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