Leaning into the problem

By Benjamin Chase of the Plainsman
Posted 4/13/24

In this From the Mound, the writer examines reasons behind low voter turnout and examines if removing parties could aid the political process

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Leaning into the problem


“After changes upon changes
We are more or less the same
After changes we are more or less the same”
“The Boxer” — Simon & Garfunkel

The follow-up single to their most successful single, “Mrs. Robinson,” Simon & Garfunkel originally released “The Boxer” as a standalone single before including the song on what would be their final album together, Bridge over Troubled Water.

A church member stopped me recently to suggest the song as a great lead song for a column, and it has a chorus that fits this week very well.

If you don’t know the song, it has a lot of typical Simon & Garfunkel folk melody to the opening of the song before getting to the chorus. The chorus is simply the words “lie-la-lie” repeated over and over.

Paul Simon joked about how he’s always been a touch embarrassed when singing the chorus of the song because he simply couldn’t come up with a strong chorus line to accompany the verse lyrics that accompany the autobiographical lyrics to the piece, so he started singing the lie-la-lie line in the studio and it stuck.

The verse that I quoted above isn’t found on the album version of the song, but it was on the original single version and multiple versions that have been performed or sung since. It’s part of the evolving, changing life the song has led in the 55 years since it was released as a single in 1969.

Many interpret the line of the chorus as the word lie, and consider it a statement on the verses, that the world was lying to the man depicted in the song, though Simon says that was never the true intent, but he’s also said that he’s glad that many have reflected on their life and the world through that interpretation as Simon himself was in a heavy period of self-reflection and Bible reading during the time he wrote the song.

I have often seen the song co-opted to refer to politicians using that chorus, insinuating that they’re doing nothing but lying in their role within the government seat they hold.

Unfortunately, those accusations aren’t simply reserved for those in the national or even state level, but also for our local representatives in city and county government.

My experience in five years of covering the city and county commissions has shown me nothing of the sort in our local governments, which is why I was delighted when petitions were filed to see three current and former members of the Huron City Commission running for the office of Mayor.

“Surely, this will bring people to the polls,” I thought. “Three excellent candidates who could all do a great job for the city but each bring something unique and different to the table. People will want to get out to support their chosen candidate!”

Well, there’s a reason that this column is called “From the Mound” and not “At the Plate.”

Swinging and missing happens far too often in my hopes and desires for the world around me, and a swing and miss on the mound is a positive thing, unlike at the plate!

Thinking that three well-qualified candidates would bring out more voters was definitely a big swing and a miss on my part.

When the numbers were tallied Tuesday, of the 7,163 eligible voters who could vote in the mayoral race, just 1,719 did.

The voter turnout of 24% for a municipal election is not terrible.
But consider that with 44% of the votes, Mark Robish won the election, and that a city of more than 14,000 people will be led by a candidate who received the votes of a little more than five percent of the city’s population.

Perhaps voters were simply assured that with three candidates, all of whom could capably do the job, any decision was a good one and chose not to vote for that reason, but I believe it’s much more likely that apathy was at the heart of the lack of interest in the race.

Not necessarily apathy toward Huron City Commission, though that could be in there somewhere, but apathy toward politics in general!

I do see the city and school board as something that would be wonderful to see in modern politics. Throughout the race, you didn’t once hear which political party the mayoral or school board candidates belonged to - as well you should not, as these boards are apolitical.

What would happen if our state elections were apolitical? Our national elections?

Instead of relying on the funding and support of a party to have a successful statewide election to make it to the U.S. Congress or the Governor’s desk, the best candidate that truly represented the people could be chosen.

It wouldn’t matter if the person was a Republican, Democrat, Independent, or even the Legalize Marijuana Now party (which is a registered party in two neighboring states).

The person who best reflected the values of the state would be the best candidate. How many of our statewide races would have been different in recent years if either a “D” or “R” didn’t follow a candidate’s name?

For instance, in Beadle County, there are 10,009 registered voters, according to the Secretary of State’s website. Of those, 4,911 are Republican, so no party represents even half of the county. For what it’s worth, there are 2,572 registered Democrats, 26 Libertarian, 1 No Labels, and 2,499 registered as independent or no party affiliation.

Beadle would seem to be a county that should be represented by a host of voices, and while their party affiliation is not part of their ballot information to run for city or school elections, I’ve had the opportunity to learn the affiliation of a number of the members over the years, and the balance looks a lot more like the registered county voters than does the elections that include political party, such as the upcoming District 22 election for representation in the state legislature or county commission seats.

For what it’s worth, I tend to think that the lack of political affiliation being part of the board’s role allows for very good cooperation among those from different viewpoints while also encouraging different angles on an issue that can bring out excellent discussion points when making decisions that spend our hard-earned tax dollars.

During the election forum for the mayor’s race, mayor-elect Mark Robish was asked about working with two sitting commissioners who would still be on the commission if he were to win.

“Working under three different mayors (when serving on the city commission), you work with your commission’s strengths,” Robish said. “We have to work together. The (mayor seat) may be ‘Number One’ but it’s only one of five.”

Utilizing the knowledge and experience of all of your colleagues on a board. Isn’t that the best-case scenario for any organized board, whether it’s City Commission or a local church board or Little League board?

Unfortunately, the more political parties are involved, the farther from working with those who have different ideas and different abilities becomes, with the goal of enhancing a party platform rather than truly representing those who vote.

It’s no wonder why lie-la-lie has become associated with politics from apathetic voters, but when we focus on local elections and the best candidate rather than a political party, that apathy and disenfranchisement can be soothed through actual responsive representation.

Thank you to all who ran for Mayor and School Board for putting yourself out there, and I look forward to how the school board and city commission will work together moving forward.