CHARLES TOWN – State senator and delegate. Sheriff. County commissioner. School board member. Prosecuting attorney. Magistrate judge. Property assessor.
The official filing period for would-be candidates for those elected public offices began Monday and ends Saturday, Jan. 25. Several first-time candidates and incumbents have filed as official candidates or filed preliminary notices as candidates. Several have openly declared online and beyond their intentions to run.
The race for Jefferson County sheriff is drawing the largest field of interested candidates—with six people declaring campaigns as of midday Tuesday.
A Democratic leader said more people are reluctant to run for office than in years past. However, a Republican official said interest in serving in political office is strong and more candidates should step forward in the days to come.
Leigh Koonce, chairman of the Jefferson County Democratic Executive Committee, said he sees incivility on social media is taking a toll in local politics. Online discourse containing “absolute sheer vitriol” has made people think twice about running for local public office, he said.
Koonce said nearly all of the online attacks come from individuals or groups not affiliated with either the Democratic or Republican party organizations. But the perpetrators of vicious postings come from both sides of the political spectrum, he added.
The nationwide spread of political incivility online—where citizens become emboldened to personally criticize public officials or their neighbors in ways they would never do in person—is too often crowding out what should be productive dialogue for unproductive debate. Often the attacks dismiss points of view out of hand merely for the opportunity to “pounce” on a target, he said.
Another troubling trend Koonce said he sees is candidates campaigning almost exclusively online. Those candidates are bypassing nonpartisan election forums where they would debate other candidates and engage with voters directly.
Social media has a useful role in contemporary campaigning, Kooce said. But candidates should also participate in the public election forums to face their rivals and hear from a range of voters, he said.
Koonce also urged voters to check out those nonpartisan forums — such as those hosted by the Jefferson County League of Women Voters or the Jefferson County Chapter of the NAACP — to hear different sides of the issues debase during a campaign. Voters can review video recordings posted online of forums they’re unable to attend, he said.
However, Jean Jacobs, vice president of the Jefferson County Republican Executive Committee, said interest in public office isn’t waning.
Jacobs said she sees a “renewed interest in serving” from people willing to step forward this year to run for local public office. A few people haven’t telegraphed their intentions with a pre-candidate filing but are looking to file as official candidates during the next two weeks.
“There may be a few last-minute decisions,” she said.
Even candidates who filed pre-candidate forms—an action that allows them to begin collecting campaign donations early—will have to file during the next two weeks.
Asked which positions up for election might see new candidates stepping forward during the next two weeks, Jacobs would mention only a county commission race. She declined to speak of the other races.