A new survey shows few people in Leon County willing to get actively involved in local politics. But some efforts are now underway to turn that situation around.
Brian Desloge has been a Leon County commissioner for the past six years. His political philosophy favors limits on government. But even he thinks today’s anti-government feelings are really out of hand.
“Local, state, federal…no one has a high opinion of elected officials or government in general. And yet, when asked, ‘Would you be willing to run?’ there’s an immediate disconnect there because the same people that like to sit on the sidelines and throw stones are the ones that oftentimes aren’t willing to get in the game.”
And that’s not just Desloge’s opinion. The Tallahassee research firm Kerr and Downs released its latest “Tallahassee Voices” poll on Friday (7/20/12). It showed two out of three respondents thought the quality of local elected officials isn’t what it used to be. Perhaps even more ominous, the vast majority surveyed said there was no way they’d consider running for office themselves. They said they’d never subject their families to the process. They worried about today’s toxic political climate and the need to raise vast sums of money for campaigns. That has Desloge very concerned.
“There’s very few people who are willing to take that last step and I look at it and see a natural progression. You serve on the United Way, you serve on the Red Cross, you serve on the Chamber, whatever suits your fancy; your church board, whatever you have an interest in and once you get to a point, it’s your turn in the pipe and you serve in the city, county or the school board and you do your turn in pure public service.”
Desloge says there’s a huge reservoir of untapped talent in a government town like Tallahassee. And he says democracy can only work effectively if more people from all backgrounds get involved.
“It’s the kind of stuff that makes a community great. We’ve got people in this community willing to step up and put their time, their talent and their treasure out there and try and take us to the next level. If everybody sat home and waited for somebody else to do it, we would be nowhere.”
One of Desloge’s commission colleagues, Kristin Dozier, is now mentoring and encouraging more women to jump into the political game.
“We don’t get up in the morning and think, ‘Wow, I can do that. I want to put my name in that hat.’ For most women, it takes being asked to run; be encouraged to run and so – if not just do it – just ask someone and hopefully you’ll get her thinking about it.”
Dozier was one of several speakers at Saturday’s day-long workshop at Tallahassee City Hall to help motivate more women to run for local public office. The session was co-hosted by Leadership Tallahassee, the League of Women Voters and the Oasis Center for Women and Girls.
“Women are significantly less likely to report that they’ve ever been approached by anyone about running for public office and so we need to be having that conversation in a more public way and we need to be supporting women who want to explore that possibility," said Haley Cutler, The Oasis Center's Executive Director. She says expanding the political talent pool depends so much on creating a climate that says, “It’s okay to run…go for it."
Cutler insists this effort isn’t a slap at men. It’s simply that women have traditionally been more reluctant to seek office. A loss, she says, for everyone.
“Women bring unique perspectives and experiences to the table for all policy decisions because all diverse people bring something unique to the table and so if we don’t have equal representation, we’re not having the voices at the table that we need to solve the broad array of issues that face out communities.”
So, to those who might complain that there are too many choices on this year’s local election ballot, there’s a growing number of people in Leon County who believe there should be far more and better choices.