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If you don't vote today, I just get that much more power

Published November 8, 2005

Go to your typical Web site, cable TV program or radio talk show about politics, and what do you get?

You get national stuff. Everybody is yammering about the president and Congress. Liberals and conservatives are busy insulting each other, to little net effect. Yada, yada.

This national focus has always seemed upside down. Why aren't we worried about local affairs most of the time, and then state-level politics and only then the national level?

City elections are fun. Today is a great example. Today, St. Petersburg will choose a mayor and four City Council members. And the Pinellas County town of Belleair will decide whether to fire Progress Energy and start its own electric company.

When you live in a city, you are directly affected almost minute by minute by the way it is run, from the tap water to the sewer system, from police and fire protection to the fixing of potholes and the quality of the parks.

(You really want to size up your City Hall? Go pull a building permit.)

Here's the good news. You get a much bigger bang for your buck, opinion-wise, in a city election. If you vote today, you'll have the same clout, proportionately speaking, as thousands of people in a national election.

Your vote is even more precious in an odd-numbered year because voter turnout is lower. Each vote cast today will be worth the weight of several. Imagine yourself walking into the polling place today surrounded by an invisible posse. You're casting all their votes.

If that isn't motivation enough, imagine ME casting YOUR vote for you. That's right. I'll be there bright and early, eager to touch that screen. If you don't show up, then it means a complete nitwit is going to be doing your voting for you. I am going to vote for all the wrong folks, too, and then stick out my tongue and go: Nyah, nyah!

Okay, just kidding about that last part.

Before we talk about the St. Petersburg election, consider the fascinating choice faced by our neighbors in Belleair, which has fought a bitter legal battle just to be able to hold this election at all.

Belleair, like a few other cities and towns around Florida, fought Progress Energy (previously Florida Progress) for the right, spelled out in dusty old contracts, to buy out the power company.

Should they do it? There are mountains of statistics and studies on both sides. Given the huge job of running an electric company, there might never be a more important election in that town.

St. Petersburg, meanwhile, has to decide whether to re-elect its mayor, Rick Baker, or opt for an upstart challenger, Ed Helm. I have not heard a single person predict that the popular Baker will lose.

But just for the sake of being contrary, consider this: There is a partisan tinge beneath this non-partisan race. Baker is a Republican and Helm is an active Democrat and there's overlap between his supporters and those in a hotly contested City Council race.

The lower the turnout, the more chance of freaky results. The mayor, being a smart man, knows this too, which is why he takes nothing for granted.

So just in case you were thinking, "I support Rick Baker but he doesn't need my vote," or, "I would vote for Ed Helm but he doesn't have a chance," maybe you should rethink that decision.

Four City Council races are on the ballot, out of eight seats total. Three incumbents have challengers of various strengths; two newcomers are competing for a vacant seat.

In at least two of these races, I have no idea who is going to win, and am probably wrong in a third. There are no opinion polls, no 24-hour experts on CNN, no big nasty political machines hammering at each other with dirty money. What kind of politics could be more delightful? Go vote, and then buy yourself an ice cream cone.

[Last modified November 8, 2005, 02:15:36]

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