Why I’m Running
Answer to “Why are you running?”, most of which appeared in the Chelsea Standard and Dexter Leader, October 21, 2004
LAWRENCE KESTENBAUM: “In the largest sense, Iâ€™m running because I believe in democracy. I know that sounds like a platitude. But American democracy is battered these days by declining participation and widespread skepticism about the proper handling and accurate counting of votes.
“One basic participation problem is the shortage of candidates for office, which has gotten steadily worse over the last generation. We politicians love to be unopposed, but it isn’t good for democracy to have elections with no choices, and it isnâ€™t even good for the leaders who gain election or re-election without any incentive to interact with and learn from voters.
“Those of us who are qualified â€” especially for specialized positions such as county clerk and register of deeds â€” have a particular obligation to step forward and make ourselves available for public service.
“Our whole system derives its legitimacy not just from the consent of the governed, but also from the participation of the governed.
“The goal of election administration should be inclusive: to maximize the number of people who take part, to remove unnecessary barriers to voting, to make the intricacies more understandable, information more accessible and the process more efficient, secure and trustworthy.
“I have a great deal of background in elections. As an election inspector at the city, township and county level, a poll challenger, candidate, elected official, director of voter registration drives, and attorney in recounts, I have participated in nearly every aspect of the election process. I have written articles and given speeches about problems in election administration, voter authentication, tabulation and voting systems.
“Elections aside, the Clerk/Register’s primary role is to receive, process, store, and provide information. Most of these functions are done with computers, and an increasing number are provided online. That’s a great thing — but there are also tremendous risks and pitfalls.
“As Washtenaw county commissioner, I was the county government’s chief advocate for attention to computer and network security issues. When the e-Government (online services) initiative was launched, and new policies on privacy and security and commercial use were needed, I was the only elected official to participate.
“We need a county clerk who understands this critical technology, who can recognize problems, ask the right questions, and evaluate costs and risks, rather than simply taking the word of hired techs or salesmen.
“Dealing with the public day after day is not easy work. Lots of customers are rude or impatient or challenging in other ways. After a while, even the most well-intentioned organization starts to develop a â€˜customer-is-the-enemyâ€™ culture. This tendency must constantly be resisted.
“I believe that each and every person who comes to the office should be treated with the utmost courtesy and respect. It is the least we can do in a county government that aspires to provide â€˜world-class service.â€™ To achieve this requires ongoing, daily commitment from management, as well as support and training for front-line staff.
“Final authority rests with the judges, but I believe the clerk should be an advocate for making jury service as brief and efficient as possible. One-day, one-trial service should be the standard.
“Republicans have held the office of Washtenaw County Clerk for seven decades.
“Partisanship is relevant because the clerk leads the redistricting process in the county, and helps makes appointments to fill vacancies in other partisan â€” and policymaking â€” elected county positions.
“Iâ€™m the first Democrat to run for county clerk in eight years, and Iâ€™m the first one to put on a serious campaign in a lot longer than that. But the baseline vote for Democrats in Washtenaw County has been rising gradually since the 1960s. This will be Washtenaw Countyâ€™s most Democratic election year in modern history, so I think my chances are very good.
“But Washtenaw Republicans are not going away: the county clerkâ€™s job requires cooperating with township clerks, most of whom are Republicans. I have a strong record of working across party lines. For example, as county commissioner, I successfully pushed for the creation of a minority party (i.e., Republican) position on the board leadership team. Better decisions result when all sides are at the table.
“A great many respected leaders have endorsed me and supported my campaign from the beginning. Former state Rep. John Hansen and Washtenaw County Treasurer Catherine McClary are perhaps the best known in the western part of the county.
“My opponent and I are running positive and educational campaigns. Peggy Haines and I have been on good terms for years, and I want that to continue. She and I disagree on many issues, but I do not attack her record or stewardship. Rather, my campaign material offers my vision of what the office would be under my administration.”