With every election, it’s a challenge to know who to vote for. Flashy political ads obscure what candidates really think. Debates give us poll-tested answers that set up three-second sound bites. You’ll probably never even meet the candidates personally.
At our local level, that all changes. You might not have a ton of history or media coverage to know a person. But you’ll have an opportunity to meet and talk with the candidate. And that’s important! For new candidates especially, you’re relying on conversations with that person.
Talking politics like this is tough. But it’s important when picking our community leaders and deciding our future. Knowing what questions to ask is key here.
When talking with local leaders, I often ask for questions that we should be asking. Here’s a handy list compiled from those answers.
Why are you running?
Sounds like a simple one, right? But you’d be surprised at how many candidates can’t answer that question. If they’re running for public office, they should give you an answer on why.
What to listen for: Are they running to tackle a specific problem? Or maybe they believe their past experience will be beneficial? Steer clear of the candidates that can’t answer this in a clear and concise way.
What’s your vision for our community? Where do you see Fayetteville and Lincoln County in the next 5, 10, and 15 years?
Community leaders lay out the future for our community. A candidate should have a few key points in this answer that work together and lay out their vision.
What to listen for: Are they focused solely on the next few years and don’t mention past that? We need leaders that can look beyond the next budget cycle. Their vision should get you excited about them as a person and where they see our town headed.
Do you think our main street and downtown are healthy and successful? If not, what would you do to change that?
With city elections, candidates have an even closer connection to our downtown. We want candidates that are thinking about the current state of downtown.
What to listen for: Start first with how you think things are going. What do you see when you walk around downtown? What do you see going right or wrong on main street? Then think through some ways that the community could improve that part of town. Those ideas are what you’ll want to listen for when the candidate answers.
What neighborhood do you live in? Where are your favorite places to spend time in our town?
All of our elected officials live in the county limits. But there’s lots of areas to our community.
What to listen for: Does the candidate seem familiar with the whole community? Or are their answers focused on only specific areas? A candidate that focuses only on specific areas might not see the big picture and how our town fits together.
If elected, what three steps would you take to put our community on a firmer financial footing?
Local finances tie directly into your pocket-book. Are lots of businesses and residents leaving the city? Look for cuts in public services and increases in taxes. Is business booming with people flocking to live in the city limits? That means more tax revenue collected so more services and less taxes.
What to listen for: Vague answers show unfamiliarity with the topic. Concrete, actionable, and affordable steps show what the candidate’s really thinking.
How do you plan to involve residents in the decision-making process in our town?
One of the biggest asks I hear from community leaders is for residents to get more involved. This is a two-way street – we should be more involved and candidates should have ideas on engaging more people.
What to listen for: Pay close attention to how a candidate will engage with people who can’t always make it to a board meeting, i.e. folks that work multiple jobs, parents that don’t have childcare options, etc.