There’s no getting around the fact that incumbency gives incumbents certain advantages in an election cycle. Things like name recognition, an already established campaign mechanism, etc.
Perhaps this isn’t an entirely bad thing. Perhaps, if you’ve already won the trust of voters once, the bar should be a little higher for those seeking to unseat you. I don’t know. It’s a debate worth having.
But there is a point at which incumbency can be abused, and in Bismarck Mayor Mike Seminary has absolutely abused it.
In an editorial today the Bismarck Tribune says Seminary’s use of an official city press release – disseminated through all of the city’s official channels – to compliment himself on budgeting just roughly a week before election day was wrong.
I’m not sure the word “wrong” suffices, and the editorial leaves out an important part of the story behind Seminary’s use of the press release. The mayor said he felt the press release was important to inform voters about the upcoming budgeting process. “We’ll be going into the budget process shortly, and I felt it was important, given I’ve had previous conversations with Keith Hunke about cuts and efficiencies, to get this information out in advance of our meetings,” he told Tribune reporter Cheryl McCormack. “This was the timing that seemed appropriate,” he added.
But here’s the problem: “In his four years as mayor, Seminary says he’s never directed city staff to send out a similar news release prior to, or during, the budget cycle,” McCormack reports.
So why this year and not those other years during Seminary’s first term in office?
Well, this year is an election year, and he’s got two opponents in Steve Bakken and Isaac Afoakwa.
Bismarck residents should be deeply concerned about Seminary’s misuse of his office’s power. It smacks of the sort of machine politics we see in other local governments around the nation where powerful elected figures use the government apparatus they control as de facto campaign resources. History is rife with examples from places like New York and Chicago where local officials used the power of their offices not to serve the public but to serve themselves.
Isn’t that exactly what Seminary did here?
When people invested with the power of the government lose sense of how to appropriately wield that power it’s time to take that power away from them.