Murray Bishoff: Monett continues down its path to political irrelevance

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Primary elections promote interest in voting.


Primaries help parties define who they are and rally people to their cause. The volume of interest will vary with the candidates, but the actual exercise of choosing between candidates stimulates interest.

Maybe we see a lack of primaries because few people want to run for local office anymore. That doesn't seem to be the case among Republicans in Barry County. However, in 1990, Barry County had three Democrats holding countywide office and had a primary election where three Democrats battled it out for the chance to take on a Republican in the general election.

In 2004, Barry County's August primary drew the largest voter turnout in the last 30 years. Republicans had a five-way race for sheriff and Democrats had a three-way sheriff's race that drew 2,451 votes. More than 8,570 people voted in that primary.

In 2012, Barry County's August primary topped 37 percent, bringing more than 7,500 people to the polls. Republican Mick Epperly had a tough re-election battle for sheriff against a single opponent to stimulate interest. This week's election drew 35.5 percent, one of the better turnouts, to be sure. Numbers in August have grown with Democratic participation, drawn as of late by state races. There hasn't been a primary race for a Democrat in Barry County since 2004.

Thus stands the question: is there no primary because there's no interest, or is there no interest because there's no primary? Then the question becomes, is there no Democratic primary because there is no hope of winning in what has become so solidly a Republican area? How have things changed that much since 1990?

The latest election raises more concerns about what has happened to the Monett electorate. How is it that 20 percent of registered voters in Monett cast ballots, the lowest percentage of any precinct in the county, compared to 40 percent in Cassville? Only two more people voted in Monett than in the Purdy/McDowell precinct.

If Monett wants to become irrelevant politically, it's on the right path. Candidates will stop campaigning here if no one is going to bother to vote.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the Barry County portion of Monett had 5,748 residents and Cassville had 3,266. It is true that people in Jefferson City are more keenly aware of the mechanics of the state government than the rest of the state because they see the mechanics of it in action on a daily basis. Cassville people may feel the same way.

Has the county government become so distant or so irrelevant to Monettans that they would cede involvement in the county to a much smaller entity as Cassville? Or is this the community's response to the hostility of the 911 board refusing to consider working with Monett when use of the sales tax was first discussed? The hostility of that board toward Monett, channeled by the fire chiefs from many communities, was impossible to miss. Sentiments may have changed over time, but little has been done to mend that rift, and Monett has not forgotten.

Monett city leaders don't seem to have that much to do with the county, other than the police taking people as needed to the county jail. As best as we can tell, everyone seems to like it that way. But that doesn't speak well for the future, and the time will come when Monett and Barry County will need each other.

As for primaries, since the change in state law, Monett does not have to have them anymore. It's good not to waste money whittling down a field that's already minimal. However, will the lack of a primary in Monett send competition for the city council the way of the Barry County Democrats, with barely anyone running? We may like the current city council, but in the long view, a lack of candidates will not help move the city forward.

Monett voters have already felt the creeping arthritis of apathy. We hardly need to make that a trademark for the future.

Murray Bishoff is the news editor of The Monett Times and a frequent Cassville Democrat contributor.

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