Political Corruption Is Shaking Dallas County. You Have the Power to Keep It in Check

It may seem obvious to say that the best cure for political corruption is electing good people. But so few of us show up to vote in local contests, it’s hard to expect we will elect candidates who have the public interest at the top of their agenda. The recent high profile corruption cases that have stung North Texas are a cause for all of us to reflect on what we can do to improve local government. Since last fall, former Dallas City Council members Dwaine Caraway and Carolyn Davis each pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges, and Laura Jordan, the former mayor of Richardson and her developer husband, were convicted of federal bribery and corruption. In each instance, the elected official succumbed to the pay-for-play mentality that is at the root of most corruption cases.Electing a city council member may not feel as important as voting for a president or senator, but local officials often are more central to our day-to-day lives. They have the power to raise property taxes, sign contracts and make your commute better or worse.Yet, in 2015, the last time our city voted for Dallas mayor, only 6 percent of registered voters cast ballots, the worst turnout of any of America's 30 largest cities, according to a study by Portland State University. Dismal turnouts aren’t just a Dallas problem. The percentage of all Dallas County voters casting ballots in May municipal elections has been in single-digits for years. Apathy also has stifled turnout in local elections in surrounding counties, especially in years when high-profile statewide or national races aren’t on the top of the ballot.An unengaged electorate is exactly what mediocre candidates for public office need to succeed. At its worse, voter apathy allows corrupt public officials to think that no consequences exist for bad behavior. We all know the worst behavior happens when we think no one is watching.We’re not so naive to believe that corruption can be swept away by people showing up to vote. There will always be people who promise to serve the public and then serve themselves. But as citizens, we owe ourselves and our community our engagement in the political process. Every vote matters matter, and here’s why.A vote creates accountability, and a strong voter turnout sends a signal to whomever is elected that they can’t fly under the radar. When large numbers of voters go to the polls, the cumulative impact can diminish the impact of special interests to influence local politics. The more voices that rise up, the more eyes that watch, the tougher it becomes for the politician to slide into corruption.Pathetically, in Dallas, we often see the opposite. Sometimes a few dozen votes decide who sits on the city council. Why would anyone stay on the sidelines and allow a small handful of voters to speak for a broader community?Civic engagement requires taking the time to register and to become an informed voter. This newspaper considers proven track records of accomplishment to be an important qualification for elective office during our recommendation process. We urge voters to hold candidates to this standard, too.On May 4, a large number of elected municipal offices, including Dallas mayor, the entire Dallas city council and numerous seats in suburban government will be contested. If you aren’t registered to vote, do so. And then vote. Voters hold the power to shape communities, to support true public servants and to weed out the pretenders. But that only happens when citizens step up to exercise their civic duty and demand the best from elected officials.This editorial was written by the editorial board and serves as the voice and opinion of The Dallas Morning News.Key Deadlines for 2019 Municipal ElectionsApril 4: Last day to registerApril 22: Start of early voting:April 30: End of early votingMay 4: Election DayDallas County Voter Turnout, May Municipal Elections2017: 7.87 percent2015: 6.76 percent2013: 7.53 percent2011: 11 percent Source: Dallas County Elections  Continue reading...

Copyright The Dallas Morning News
Contact Us