On April 2, we have the privilege of casting a ballot for candidates in the municipal election. Gratefully, this election season has been quiet and peaceful –– two words normally not associated with candidates vying for political office. And better yet, the Herald staff has not had to deal with nasty political ads.
No defaming accusations.
No debates or mudslinging acts, and no rhetoric.
But political rhetoric, yes.
Rhetoric is the art of persuasion. It is defined as a way to inform, persuade or motivate an audience to react in a specific way.
But in politics, the definition of rhetoric changes because political rhetoric is not grounded in truth. We’ve all heard political ads created at the national level that viciously attack and deceive. The ads mislead and melodrama is used to twist the truth and defame.
This is nothing new. Political rhetoric has existed forever.
Former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who served as the 32nd president of the United States from 1933 until his death in 1945, is noted for stating, “In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.”
On the other side of the world, Mao Zedong, Chinese communist revolutionary who was commonly referred to as Chairman Mao, described politics by saying, “Politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics with bloodshed.”
Politics has a longstanding foul reputation and little has changed throughout the years. But the issue isn’t just political rhetoric.
Politics also generates the rumor mill.
The rumor mill demeans and damages through word of mouth –– it is facilitated by individuals who broadcast gossip, disseminate unsubstantiated claims, plant seeds of mistrust, and spread untruths meant to harm.
This kind of political rhetoric may be the most damaging of all. Especially in a small town environment like Ava.
This week I received phone calls from several locals asking about a candidate’s claim that if elected to office, city electric bills would be lowered. Another boast from this candidate eluded to their ability to cut costs in the Ava Police Department and save the City over $200,000 in expenses.
Rumor mill, indeed.
Here’s a little history about utilities that may be helpful and put things into perspective for voters.
In August 1953, under the leadership of Mayor J.R. Spurlock, my great-grandfather, Ava bought and built their own infrastructure and distribution system for providing electricity to Ava residents.
Supporting the idea, Ava folks had shown solid support for the initiative in 1946 when Ben Callaway was mayor and residents voted to embrace the electrical bond issue with a unanimous vote of 400 to 34, in favor.
It was exactly seven years later in 1953 when council finally negotiated the purchase of the distribution system and construction of a completely new plant.
During that time, Mayor Spurlock issued a statement noting, “Ava is going to own and operate its own electric distribution system and in the very near future. We will either buy the present distribution system or the citizens of Ava may expect to see new poles and other equipment rolling in within a very short time for an out and out new system.”
The project was a big deal as taking on such a high level of responsibility was challenging, but also unheard of at that time. And, according to records from the era, the benefits exceeded all expectations. It also gave officials control over infrastructure locations in town, pole placement, relay stations and more.
Owning the distribution plant created Ava’s independence, rather than Ava’s dependence.
Today, Ava still owns that infrastructure, and that revenue stream helps keep the City in operation and supports local services.
If Ava did not own the infrastructure, 100 percent of all payments would be going to an outside electric company to pay their corporate expenses and provide profits to their shareholders. Because of the bold risk taken by city officials in the 1950s, our town government is still able to maintain a level of self-suficiency and reinvest in community.
The caveat in this scenario is the high cost of electricity.
Even though the city belongs to a consortium group which offers a more competitive electric transmission rate to small town municipalities, the cost of electricity is still dictated by an outside source –– a power company like Ameren, Duke Energy, White River, etc. And those companies are controlled by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission which regulates the transmission and wholesale cost of electricity.
So, if a local politician is claiming to lower electric bills if elected to office, this is a false promise to get into office. A mayor or councilman has no power to adjust the electrical rate.
And, regarding the candidate’s other boast to restructure the Ava police department and create a landfall savings of over $200,000….. well, here is a quote from Jon Katz, an American journalist, that deftly addresses such rumor mill rhetoric.
“Animals have come to mean so much in our lives. We live in a fragmented and disconnected culture. Politics are ugly, religion is struggling, technology is stressful, and the economy is unfortunate. What’s one thing that we have in our lives that we can depend on? A dog or a cat loving us unconditionally, every day, very faithfully.”
However, Katz fails to mention the biggest plus of all –– dogs and cats don’t gossip.
Remember, as you step into the voting booth on Tuesday, don’t base candidate selection on some tidbit heard over coffee at a local restaurant or an unsubstantiated criticism posed during a ballgame.
As kids, we all played ‘telephone’ or ‘grapevine’ and quickly learned how easily truth is distorted. Take your vote seriously. This changing of the guard is important to the future of our community.