As the nation comes close to elections for House Representatives and one-third of the American Senate, individual communities are also preparing for local and state elections. It’s interesting to watch the local elections more so than national ones in many cases, and this because these candidates are right down the street from us and walk the same stores we walk. In the same mind frame, those who pay attention to local government can often recall events that have happened in the past with clarity; after all, those events were things that – again – happened in their back yard.
Being from Springfield, MO, and Springfield being in Greene County, one of the bigger elections happening right now is for the Greene County Presiding Commissioner. The primary is just weeks away, and the spotlight is on the Republican candidates: Bob Cirtin, Jerry Fenstermaker, and Steve Helms. For a recent article published by the Springfield News-Leader, the three were interviewed and discussed taxes and revenues. It was very telling in that we see how even local politicians take the national tactics of evading a direct question and bringing their response to a pre-scripted answer that most suits their past and current positions, and at the same time gives leeway to future decisions that may or may not be already decided.
In this instance, the first question was, “Would you support a new tax to help fund county operations? What kind?”
Candidate Bob Cirtin outright stated “no”, and went on to discuss his understanding of the need to bring new business to the county and that through discussions with the local Chamber of Commerce he understands that any new revenues need to come from “increased sales and property tax revenue.” This is rather interesting given that the local Chamber of Commerce is well-known for supporting any and all tax increases in the community. It is also interesting this philosophical round-about, given Cirtin’s run for this seat began immediately after the current Presiding Commissioner Jim Viebrock opposed a tax that officials claimed was going to support law-enforcement. What is more interesting is that Cirtin’s Deputy Treasurer is Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott, an ardent supporter of the same tax Viebrock opposed. A bit confusing, until we remember the fact that this is a primary election at this point and Greene County is typically a conservative community. If we remember these two facts, it becomes more clear what is going on.
Next was the response by Jerry Fenstermaker. His response was that he would not support a tax at this time. He further stated that until “new leadership has done a thorough review of finances and explain to the public what the choices are for the next three years to become fiscally sound, there is no chance for a favorable vote.” At least we can rely on Mr. Fenstermaker to be more clear about his position, and while it is a bit misleading, it’s not near as much so as Mr. Cirtin’s. Looking back, Fenstermaker was the chairman of a Task Force (temporary committee) to decide what to do about the Springfield Police and Fire Pension crisis. In the end, and after “explaining to the public what the choices” were (which amounted to a campaign all about how the city would go bankrupt without a new sales tax), with his support, Fenstermaker’s task force won the fight and a new sales tax was implemented. If we look back to when he supported a new tax, we can also see this was at the height of the Great Recession and the economic downturn our nation was going through (begging the question of when he would actually oppose a tax). We can also note that Mr. Fenstermaker didn’t say that he opposed a tax, but that he opposed blindly asking voters to approve such a tax. First, he believes, we need to be “re-educated”.
The last response in the article was given by Steve Helms. Along with his clear “no” answer, he reiterated his pledge to “not raise county tax rates if elected.” Helms has a long history of consistency on this issue as well. In situations where people like Cirtin and Arnott form alliances, Helms stands resolute in his philosophy: “Greene County Circuit Clerk Steve Helms, who also opposed sending the tax to voters, cited “pathetic” turnout and voter apathy for the sales tax success Tuesday.” While this comment was made about another, previous tax issue, it is a reflection of the consistent approach Helms has towards the bigger question: Should government turn to voters for tax increases at every hint of a financial problem? Even when it isn’t the popular opinion, Helms has consistency. A fine trait to have when the microscope is in use.
It is clear that candidates are typically in favor of pandering to the mass of their potential constituency. That is what we have here with two of the three candidates – but at least there is a diamond in the primary rough. While this may sound like of an endorsement of Helms, it should be more so considered an endorsement of consistency. That is what voters want, and that is what voters deserve.