While November elections often attract most voters’ attention, early June in many communities throughout Maine also offers electioneering opportunities.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for the Lakes Region Weekly, lives in Windham.

Community-minded men and women throw their proverbial hats in the political ring and hope their fellow town residents choose them to serve on the town council, school board, planning board or budget committees.

As a reporter who covered 15 years’ worth of local elections, I always enjoyed getting to know the people who ran for local office. They weren’t machine-style politicos in it for fame, power or insider trading tips. They were moms and pops, grandpas and grandmas trying their best to set budgets and policies at the local level.

However, I learned that even though these are small-time, small-town leadership positions, these people had just as much, if not more, impact on people’s daily lives than many of their counterparts in Augusta and Washington, D.C. There’s nothing more impactful than what the local town council or school board decides to do on your street or to your kid’s curriculum.

Because I’ve spent so much time writing about local leaders, I’ve often wondered about what kind of person would make the ideal local political candidate. Here are a few ideas I’ve come up with so far:

First, the ideal candidate would need to be fiscally responsible. They need not be rich but well off enough to have proven they know how to manage their finances. This is necessary because they need to have demonstrated they know how to manage their own finances before they’re trusted to manage the taxpayers’.

Next, the ideal local office-seeker wouldn’t talk a lot or require the glow of the spotlight (which is anathema to many state and national politicians). Much of a council or school board meeting is listening to residents as they voice their concerns, so the ideal candidate would need to be able to listen well.

When it comes to school committee candidates, parents need not apply. I interviewed many candidates who thought it a plus to be the parent of an enrolled student. No way. They have personal vested interests, which is actually a conflict of interest.

The same is true of planning board candidates, where conflicts can easily arise. Many planning boards are made up of builders, developers and civil engineers. That should be a no-no since they or someone they know in the development world could benefit from their zoning or project approvals.

More generally, the ideal candidate would be able to come to their own conclusions without being told how to vote by the superintendent or town manager. During my reporting days, I met many otherwise strong-willed, self-confident local elected representatives who were simply unable to stand up to the superintendent or town manager or department heads, especially if that leader had a long tenure.

It also helps if a local candidate has some real-life experience with their town’s building codes, zoning, business community or school district before taking a spot on a governing board. But that’s not mandatory. The ideal candidate is a fast learner and enjoys educating themselves on a range of topics.

Come to think of it, while these traits and characteristics all make for an ideal local candidate, perhaps the best trait is the one, dear reader, you’re practicing right now. Residents who care enough about their community to pick up their local newspaper might trump all previously stated traits.

It’s too late to run in this cycle, but it’s not too late to start planning for next June’s election.

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