I have purposefully stayed away from commenting on local politics because local politics can be mean and vicious, and the reason it’s so mean and vicious is the stakes are usually so small. I also try not to be unnecessarily cruel, and if I wrote about the local political scene, I’d sound like an angry, bitter old man. So unless someone asks me for my opinion, my general rule is I don’t volunteer it, but every rule has its exception.
The exception that overrides the “no comment on local politics” rule is the “elections matter” rule. And all elections matter, but more governmental policy decisions affecting the quality of your life will be made by local elected officials than by any U.S. president.
The August 7 Democratic primary is less than 30 days away. At The American the job of endorsing specific candidates or issues is the responsibility of the editorial board. As an opinion writer, my portfolio is more focused on the implications of the events of the day. However, my focus here is what this August 7 election means for your future and the future of the region.
When a ship leaves port, only the captain can set the course and only the captain can change the course. No matter what any crew or passengers think about the ship’s course, short of mutiny, they are powerless to change it. The only real choice the crew or the passengers have is: Do they want to sail with this captain to the proposed destination? Passengers and crew don’t get to pick the captain they want; they must pick from the captains commanding ships that are sailing at that moment.
Elections are similar. You don’t get to choose who you think is the best person for the job, you must pick from the people running for the job. Here’s why you need to be paying attention to who’s running: Once they’re elected, there’s little you can do to influence what they’ll do and, short of impeachment, you can’t replace them until the next election.
Somebody is going to get elected and will make decisions about your life and, like those passengers and crew at sea, there’s nothing you’ll be able to do about it. You’re on the ship and can’t get off, but you do get to hire the captain from a list of applicants that have applied for the job – but only if you vote.
I’m not a St. Louis cheerleader, but I’m not a reflexive naysayer either. What I try to be is an honest critic. And an honest critic has to tell you that the slow, overweight, unathletic son you love has no chance of ever playing for a World Cup championship.
I also have a contrarian view of the St. Louis region’s economic decline. I don’t see it as recent historical event that requires a tactical adjustment. I believe the data leads you to the conclusion that it’s long term (over the span of 100 years) and is the result, to a large extent, of larger historical geopolitical forces that aren’t controllable at the local level.
However, local leadership is in control of how you respond to these historical geopolitical forces. Local leadership that is intelligent, imaginative and courageous enough not to defend an obsolete status quo can often mitigate the damage and take advantage of the shifting paradigm to create a new narrative for a city or region.
For the last 20 years, as our nation and the world were transforming at light speed, St. Louis has been governed by people without the requisite skills or vision to make the necessary course corrections or recruit the diverse crew that is needed for sailing the multicultural seas of the 21st century. The proverb says, “Where the leaders have no vision the people perish.” Unless and until we get leadership equal to what these times require, St. Louis will be a ship lost at sea, without a coarse, headed nowhere.
Over the next four weeks as The American vets its choices and makes its recommendations, remember that because you live here, your passage is already booked, but the captains haven’t been picked. So pick your captains like your life depends on it, because it does.
Mike Jones is a former senior staffer in St. Louis city and county government and current member of the Missouri State Board of Education and The St. Louis American editorial board. In 2016, he was awarded Best Serious Columnist for all of the state’s large weeklies by the Missouri Press Association.