Democracy at its purest: write-in races

Bill Clinton and every other politician crying for campaign finance reform could learn a thing or two from Raymond E. DeMoss and Emma Neises.

They are two, small-town politicians from Northern Kentucky. He's a city councilman from Silver Grove, across the muddy Ohio from Coney Island. She's a city commissioner from California, upstream from New Richmond.

Both were elected last week after no-frills campaigns. Very no-frills. No money. No slogans. No yard signs. No party affiliation. No name on the ballot.

They were write-in candidates.

Their elections showed how democracy works in its purest form.

Small-town pride

Raymond E. - ''use the 'E' because there's a Raymond C. down here and people mix us up'' - won after declaring he wouldn't run.

''I'd been in council for 10 or 12 years,'' he said. ''My mind was made up. I wasn't running again. Time to let someone else try their hand at it.

''But, just before the election, people started asking me, 'If I write you in, would you take the job for another two years?' The job doesn't pay anything. So, I just told 'em, 'I reckon.'''

Running on the ''if elected, I reckon I'll serve'' pledge, he won by a landslide. His vote total was twice as big as that of any candidate who paid the $20 filing fee so his name could appear on the ballot.

Of the 79 votes cast, Raymond E. received 19.

''Silver Grove is just a little-bitty place,'' he said. ''Four blocks wide by, oh, maybe, 10 blocks long. It's right by the river. In the summertime, we can sit on our back porch and hear the music drift over from Riverbend.''

Continuing his travelogue, the retired railroader called Silver Grove ''a town filled with people who work their tails off for a living. Population is 1,200 - 1,400 if you take in all the people who live in the trailer courts.''

Because of Silver Grove's size, it doesn't attract very many big-bucks political contributors. Councilman DeMoss swears he has never been approached by influence peddlers from Indonesia, ''or any other such place.''

If anyone did offer him money, he'd just give it back. ''I wouldn't need it.''

Emma Neises and her fellow city commission candidates were running - as usual - as write-ins.

''Nobody wants to waste the money on that filing fee,'' said the housewife who finished first, with 11 votes.

''We've been doing this,'' she added, ''for as long as I can remember.''

And how long is that?

''Well, I was first elected when I was 24,'' she said. ''I'm 57 now. And we've been doing write-ins all along. There's just about 160 of us here. Everybody knows everybody else in town. The voters are educated. They know who's running.''

Save money, save us

> The voters are educated. They know who's running.

Emma's words, and the simple, direct victories in Silver Grove and California, are both inspiring and depressing in an election year with the lowest voter turnout since 1824.

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Politics, however, is a megabucks sport. The 1996 presidential campaign consumed $237 million - just through September.

In Cincinnati's last city council election, 18 candidates spent a record $2.33 million. Next year's race is expected to cost even more.

What do we, the voters, get for all that money, much of it taxpayer supplied?

Ad campaigns. Spin assault.

How about a campaign finance proposal that begins with zero-based budgeting? Let's cut off the money and see what interest candidates can generate with good ideas and their own personalities.

That also means voters have to do more than channel surf the ads. Democracy assumes hands-on participation, not your finger on a big remote control.

Get to know who's running. Don't gripe about not being able to tell one judicial candidate from another. Find out.

Then if campaign finance continues to be another empty election-year promise, the next time out, we can be like the folks in Silver Grove and California.

We can vote the best people into office because we know them.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.

Published Nov. 15, 1996.