PITTSFIELD – Candidates night on Wednesday was as much about who was missing as it was about who was actually there.
Of the 13 Somerset County candidates invited, only four showed up. The remaining nine either failed to respond to the invitation or were unable to attend.
Those candidates who did come addressed an audience of 17, a third of whom were the event’s sponsors, the Pittsfield Arts Club.
The lack of participation mirrored Pittsfield’s November ballot, for which two town councilors are running unopposed, and no one has taken out nomination papers for two open seats on the SAD 53 school board.
“I have a theory about apathy,” Lynda Quinn, Democratic candidate for District 3 county commissioner, told the group. “When things are going very well and the community is running smoothly, no one shows up. They are satisfied. But when they start coming to meetings, that’s when you know they have something to say.”
One advantage to the small size of Wednesday night’s forum was the intimacy both candidates and audience members felt.
“This was so much better,” Republican Stacey Fitts, seeking re-election to House District 29, said after the event. “It was much more like a fireside chat.”
The four candidates pulled their chairs up in front of the audience, and for much of the evening, discussions and debates were held back and forth between the two groups.
The candidates included Quinn, Fitts, Quinn’s Democrat opponent Robert Mealey and Pittsfield councilor seeking re-election to an at-large seat, Wayne Fotter.
Each explained their background and platform and then accepted questions from the audience.
The Taxpayers Bill of Rights, also known as TABOR, voter apathy, the size of state government and the proposed Somerset County Jail were prime topics.
Mealey said the greatest needs in Somerset County were economic growth, the new jail, a respect for heritage and trust. He was promoting regional policing and house arrest for minor crimes to save jail expenses.
Mealey was quick to assess that “TABOR is a disaster.” He said the communities all listened well to LD 1, which was a tax cap, and this new measure is unnecessary and restrictive.
Fotter said he had no special agenda “except to represent every resident of Pittsfield and not cater to special interest groups.”
He agreed with Mealey on TABOR. “I feel TABOR will hinder town government as we know it today,” he said. “Our Town Council is already fiscally responsible.
Quinn and Fitts, however, supported the referendum.
“I think it is well past the time for it to come,” Quinn said. “It is not a cap. It allows government to grow, but at an easy pace, not leaps and bounds. If you can show a need and cause why the budget should increase, it goes back to the people. That’s what I like about it. That’s what we are, a government by the people.”
Fitts said, “TABOR is a symptom of a problem we’ve had for a long time.” He also admitted that “most communities are as frugal as can be” and that the state will have the power to waive after TABOR, if it passes, because it is not a state constitutional amendment.
He said that he felt if TABOR passed, however, the Legislature would abide by the voters’ wishes.
In response to an audience question, Fitts also addressed the size of state government. “We are ridiculously oversized,” he said. “For example, in the Department of Transportation, there are three office workers for every one person in the field.”
Fitts said that funded, unfilled positions in all departments of state governments are used as “a slush fund.”