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Competition is good for local democracy


By Editorial Board

Earlier this month, a political first-timer entered a magisterial race as an independent to challenge an unopposed Democratic nominee who had by then been declared the de facto successor to the seat in play (currently occupied by his father).

The candidate, Holly Hickling of East Carnegie, should be praised for taking on such long odds simply because she believes her community at least deserves options on November’s ballot.

After all, without options, what use is a vote?

Demonstrating similar tenacity, Republican candidates are this year making efforts to break into the Democratic strongholds of Robinson and Kennedy, while on the other side of the aisle, former state representative and McKees Rocks native Nick Kotik is attempting to win support in deep-red Cranberry as a blue dog Democrat.

Most of these attempts are likely doomed, but by running anyway they’re keeping democracy alive. At the very least, entering the race forces otherwise unchallenged opponents to run some sort of campaign of their own and, in doing so, make their positions known to the public.

When outliers do break into politically homogeneous territory, their willingness to question the prevailing consensus helps bring to light vital truths that otherwise remain hidden.

This function is highlighted in several area communities where an uncomfortable uniformity among elected officials prevents meaningful discussion from taking place in public. Votes are cast, but the observing public learns little about the substance behind them.

Of course, we’re not advocating for the frenzied bickering seen in other local municipalities where factions prevail, and reason, sadly, does not.

But somewhere between these extremes, we can at least imagine a vital local civic culture taking hold, where respect can be administered alongside dissent. Where candidates for office self-select from the community rather than being hand-picked by unelected party chairpeople?

All this is clearly nothing new. The U.S. Constitution assumes the country will always be fueled by diverse opinions, which if harnessed through the right political structures, can ultimately promote a common public good.

None of this is of course easy or ever pulled off perfectly in practice.

Adding to this, the current tone of national discourse suggests we’re abandoning the tradition of ordered adversary in favor of noisy tribalism. But let’s not make that mistake at the local level. Let’s value competition, while also valuing our neighbor.



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