Who’s the Qualified Candidate?

By Garen Yegparian

Yes–more on elections.

Someone should really do a PhD thesis or other study on what drives people to run for office–especially local–under conditions that exist in places like Glendale today. Some of these poor–addled candidates are in for the shocks of their lives. Sadly they’ll also play the role of spoilers (in ways that make unjustly-accused-Nader-in-Florida-2004 look like an angel).

The title of this piece begs the questions of who’s making the assessment of qualification and in what context before getting into the actual list of qualifications.

Clearly–the context is the Armenian community’s interest. If for no other reason–then simply because many of the candidates in Glendale’s races– City Council–School Board–Community College Board of Trustees–City Clerk–and City Treasurer–pin high hopes on the Armenian vote–which has been energized in recent years and is a force to be reckoned with.

As to who’s doing the judging? Well–it’s me. Deal with it!

It’s worth noting that–while much of this discussion is rooted in municipal elections–it is broadly applicable to higher–legislative-representative–state and federal level offices as well.

The most obvious qualification for office is experience–training–or some background in a field applicable to the post sought–e.g. having been a local government employee–if running for city council–being a trained teacher–if running for school board–or coming from the world of finance–if running for treasurer.

But this is obviously insufficient. Many candidates eventually become very good members of the bodies to which they’re elected through on-the-job-training. What gets them in is support in the community they serve because they’ve been active in it. Maybe they’re single-issue advocates–and that issue resonates powerfully with the constituency in question. Maybe they speak for an under–or un-represented minority or one that is energized by real and/or perceived injustices. Maybe they have many years of service in community organizations and/or the given municipality’s boards and commissions. Maybe they’re gadflies who get lucky because the remaining field of candidates is just plain lousy. Maybe they collect–or use of their own money–enough to be heard more loudly than the competition. Maybe the incumbents have become so reprehensible to the voters that an "anybody but?" attitude prevails.

It also helps if candidates for office know whereof they speak. People do listen and appreciate it when someone is well versed in the relevant issues and conveys plausible solutions to perceived problems.

Now why is all this relevant to the Armenian community? Simple. There is a very large number of Armenian candidates in Glendale’s election this year. To be fair–it is in rough proportion to the percentage of the city’s population our community constitutes–approximately 40%. Six of 18 city council candidates (with two other "ian"s not qualifying)–four of nine city clerk candidates–one of two city treasurer candidates–four of nine school board candidates–and two (one an Armenian "hars") of four community college board candidates are Armenian.

You’d really have to have just fallen off the turnip truck–plus severely banged and bumped your head in the process–to believe these candidates don’t expect Armenia’s to vote for them–just because they ARE Armenian. And this is exactly why we as a community–through our organizations–families–and special interest sub-groupings–have the right to a say in pre-selecting these candidates.

It’s only fair and reasonable that if someone wants my vote through a guilt-by-association rationalization–then he/she ought to be open to and subject to my/our say-so in the matter. Of course this runs smack-dab into the "anyone can become president of the US" mythology that prevails in the country. And of course everyone has a right to run for any office as long as they can overcome the required hurdles. But when Armenia’s run for office in a jurisdiction where the Armenian vote is defining; when they implicitly–tacitly (if not explicitly and overtly) expect our community’s vote; when they convey the sense of being "natural" representatives of our issues; then–we as a community have a right to speak based on our interests. These interests dictate having electable candidates run and not too many of them–otherwise the Armenian vote is diluted through scattering across the ‘Armenian’ candidates–and they all lose–along with the best interests of our community. In this very fashion–the same individual likely caused the loss of two different–far more electable–Armenian candidates in the State Assembly primaries of 1997 and 2001.

Some of the Armenian candidates in Glendale are qualified and credible. They have community service behind them–but not to our community. They are standing for election as the candidate of some other–equally legitimate–grouping with the city. They just expect to piggyback off the large Armenian bloc and parlay the two constituencies’ votes into a victory. While this is smart politics and a tactic that’s been used successfully before–it is not necessarily in the Armenian community’s best interest. Such candidates–and those who have no base–therefore no hope of election–will siphon off enough votes from those truly representing our community to cause the latter’s non-election–all to our detriment.

Sometimes so much of this goes on–that one is tempted to toy with conspiratorial explanations for these phenomena. Is it just possible that we have become enough of a force in politics in certain jurisdictions that those who have their own (again–equally legitimate agenda) are trying to play divide-and-conquer with our community?

So be smart–whether in Glendale or elsewhere with Armenia’s running for office–and support those candidates who will best serve our community–even if they happen not to be Armenian.

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