Council of 16 percent

Analysis:  Back away from the election hype for a moment to consider that only 16 percent of those eligible cast ballots Tuesday in the City Council primary election.  That’s right, after years of daily dust-ups breathlessly covered in print and broadcast media only 16 percent voted.  With talk radio, online pundits and brainless conspiracy blogs following each hyperbolic whisper of discontent; still, only 16 percent voted.  Again, with full public union engagement of ground troops and a chamber of commerce political action committee fighting to protect tax funded contracts – only 16 percent voted.

If I hear one more broadcast fool say how “great the volume in massive rejection of all incumbents has occurred in Tulsa,” I may toss my cookies, lose lunch and forgo diner for at least 16 percent of the next twenty-four hours. 

Some races were decided by around fifty votes.  You would think candidates would have more friends than that without counting Facebook.  

This afternoon Oklahoma Republican Chairman Matt Pinnell told Tulsa Today, “I’m really not surprised.  Money matters less than door-to-door efforts in the neighborhoods.  Tulsa County is better organized than most counties in Oklahoma, but getting the vote out requires dedication, skills, coordination and significant effort.  Contrary to common perception, victory is less about money and more about boots on the ground – the candidate’s boots in particular.”

On a side note while speaking of money – why do traditional media rarely consider where the money goes when the issue of campaign finance reform is discussed?  Answer – because it goes to media.

Please don’t tell the newspaper, but their ceaseless whining for civility on contentious issues did not motivate anyone to vote.  It has lost them subscribers.  While many Tulsans quickly blame the council or the mayor or both for local discontent; the real culprit is the daily paper and TGOV, the local cable channel version of CSPAN.

The daily editors allow reporters long-in-tooth on this particular beat to lay claim to thousands of unjustified column inches and incendiary headlines.  Do people really care when a passive-aggressive bureaucrat incites a councilor with vague and disingenuous answers to the point he or she loses patience?  Not really.  Do voters care to watch councilors pontificate as if they were former-Rep. Weiner on the House floor rather than in an obscure local council sub-committee meeting?  Not really – even with pictures.

There are great battles ahead for Tulsa government.  Public contractors feeding off public taxes control the city at the moment.  It is also often misunderstood that government is not just one agenda, but several as management, workers and elects struggle to find functionality.  Some consider manipulation of media to be the objective and media loves that because it makes their job easy – just follow the bouncing bureaucrat as every word they say is true according to hack homers.

Years ago, I came very close to filing for mayor.  Senator Inhofe had asked me to run, but as the filing deadline approached, another better qualified candidate claimed he would make the race.  Standing at the Tulsa County Election Board office with proper papers in hand at the last filing hour, I joked with reporters who hoped I would file.  (They knew they could harvest spirited quotes if I did.)  I told them then that the first thing I would do in any campaign for public office would be to stop reading the paper or watching local news.  The point being that as a public candidate or official the job is to accomplish the work – intelligent, studied representation and dedicated honest service – not to internalize some fool’s interpretation of events, but giving full attention to the events themselves.

In other words, it is not the coverage, but the courage to do the right thing that counts while in office.  If that service draws damning headlines then fine.  If praise follows then fine, but media is foolishly focused on fame falsely confusing it with compelling interest.  While some train wrecks are compelling; a growing successful community is the only reason for public service or local public media in my less than humble opinion.  

If only the newspaper could understand that they are not writing for the general public, but a specific group of people called “subscribers” thus writing down to the fourth grade average is no longer necessary.  The thought may stretch their capability or even scare them, but they might grow circulation.  Wow, I’m feeling a radio rant coming on.

By most standards, Tuesday’s 16 percent picked the right candidates in this primary and it is comforting to know so few can set the path for so many.  However, in the general election let us pray a higher percentage of people make the painless effort to select by their vote the best servant of the people for Tulsa in each and every council seat.

So far so good.