Incumbents, by virtue of their name recognition alone, enjoy tremendous advantages in political campaigns.
That’s why it’s difficult to dislodge senior members of Congress or to oust mayors or city council members before they are ready to leave office. It’s why term limits are needed to inject fresh voices and views. And it’s why this message must be repeated: Voters, not candidates, should decide who is fit for office.
Overland Park City Councilman Terry Goodman seems to accept that truth now. But during this campaign season, Goodman veered off course by pestering the newcomer who dared to challenge him in the upcoming Nov. 7 election.
In a flurry of texts and phone calls, Goodman tried to dissuade Gina Burke from running for the Ward 4 seat that he has held for 16 years.
He says he didn’t mean to be condescending, but did suggest that Burke bone up on her experience, perhaps by serving on a commission or participating in a civic leadership class. Given the more than three-decade gap in their ages — he is 70, and she is 34 — Goodman sounded like a swaggering man talking down to a younger woman.
Goodman insists that was not his aim. “I regret deeply that this whole thing has happened,” he said Monday.
Yet younger women everywhere know that belittling, bullying tone. They’ve heard the reflexive suggestions that they are not qualified, even when a young man might receive encouragement.
Burke turned the tables by doing what younger candidates do these days. She took to social media, posting embarrassing texts from Goodman.
Goodman has never faced an opponent. His only other challenger backed out the first year Goodman ran for his seat on the Overland Park council. Before that, he spent seven years on the planning commission. From his perspective, the way he came onto the council is the way others should as well.
It’s just the way things are done.
Problem is, that sort of expectation is exactly how local governments tend to become homogenized, with people who have the same types of experiences and backgrounds serving. In Overland Park, only one woman serves on the 13-member council.
Experience does matter. As do a candidate’s character and temperament.
This is not an endorsement of either candidate for the Overland Park seat.
It’s merely a call for all politicians to lay out their best qualifications and allow their opponents to do the same. It should go without saying — but apparently is worth repeating — that urging your opponent to exit the race and suggesting that their candidacy is a threat to the city are not acceptable tactics.
On Nov. 7, voters will have the final say.