We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, probably right around the next big election: Thank a local candidate for stepping up.

Running for office is never an easy task and sometimes people take a bit of criticism. This year’s no exception, even though campaign season has moved mostly online as door-to-door canvassing isn’t an option. So we encourage you to be mindful of the importance of candidates and give them a kind word or two.

Candidates are the lifeblood of our democracy, and this is especially the case for those vying for small town mayoral and city council spots. These positions typically offer little to no pay and require plenty of toil. Those that fill them are essentially unpaid volunteers who keep our system of government functioning.

While it’s true that some local politicians earn a stipend, that’s a pittance compared to the countless hours of hard work they do. Have you ever flipped through a 100-page council packet? How about a 200- or 300-page version? As journalists, we’re all too familiar with slogging through such paperwork. It’s not exactly page-turning leisure reading, but your local elected officials get the privilege of consuming copious amounts of caffeine and familiarizing themselves with the issues.

Then there are the meetings and other functions themselves. Occasionally, fireworks erupt during a debate. Often, though, hours of the boring but important tasks required to keep the municipal machinery moving along, the clock steadily ticking toward midnight.

How many meetings, you ask? Longtime Harrisburg Mayor Bobby Duncan estimated in a recent interview that he attends 30 or so meetings a year as part of his official duties. He’s scaled things back considerably from his earlier days leading the “Mayberry” of Linn County. We wouldn’t be surprised if some councilors in Corvallis or Albany have some meeting every week of the year, whether it’s attending a forum or being asked to speak for a mid-valley service club’s luncheon.

Some people think there’s glory in holding public office, and that might be true for those in Salem or Washington, D.C. But, as a small town politician, you might experience the prestige of being cornered in the grocery store by a constituent and interrogated about potholes or that new housing development. And what about the feral cats?

On top of these scenarios are the new challenges posed by the novel coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic downturn, protests for racial justice and other issues. The job just keeps getting tougher.

So why, given these scenarios, do people run for local office and endure a bit of abuse on the campaign trail?

Candidates love the places where they live and want to give something back to their communities. It’s that simple. The want to make a difference, and they’re battling for the right to labor on your behalf.

Thankfully, there seem to be plenty of locals ready to derail their own lives by running for office. Albany and Philomath have contested mayoral elections, and there are races for spots on the Albany, Corvallis, Lebanon, Philomath and Sweet Home city councils.

With small towns in Linn County, only Halsey and Tangent had city council spots that could be determined by write-in votes as no candidates filed for office. That’s a nice change from two years ago, when there were six positions with no candidates in Linn County.

Even tiny Waterloo, which has 250 people, had four candidates for three city council spots, plus the incumbent mayor is running for reelection, too. That’s right, roughly 2% of Waterloo’s population is comprised of candidates.

For whatever reason, it seems like we have more candidates than normal in 2020, and we hope that’s a trend that continues and even trickles down to other volunteer boards, such as those for soil and water conservation districts and more.

In previous years, we would tell you to give candidates a pat on the back or even a hug. These are weird times, though, so just give them a simple “thank you,” even if it’s on social media. You can load it up with a dozen emoji if you like. Win or lose, our candidates have made our communities better.

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