This election season is extraordinary as elections go. There is a climate of conflict nationally as the Republican presidential candidates compete with each other to present their Tea Party bona-fides.
It is hard to tell if their zeal is not mainly to discredit and unseat President Barack Obama. They are upset, but they are not alone. Many on both sides feel that the country is on the wrong track. With so much that is unsettling, does anybody care, or take responsibility?
It is not even clear that the political process is working. Paralleling that is the recently emerging groundswell of discontent across the country, called Occupy Wall Street, decrying the wealth gap.
Here, it is Occupy Together Otsego. The declining prospects for the middle class, and the rising misery of more and more "surplus people," seem to constitute a generic un-American trend to many leaning toward the left.
In our area, people began to realize how destructive gas drilling has been in other areas like Wyoming and Pennsylvania. There arose a kind of urgency for examining this matter here.
The Otsego Republicans essentially seemed to turn a blind eye, frustrating many constituents. By exercising their power to do almost nothing in the face of constituent clamor, these Republicans managed to spark off a new political party! It is called Sustainable Otsego.
A populist kind of reaction arose against the Republican approach of business-as-usual in the face of fracking. Sustainable Otsego quickly morphed into a grass roots, democracy-oriented movement looking at the overall community interest.
Conservative both environmentally and economically, SO is radical in terms of openness and democratic process. Questioners were not willing to be patted on the head with pat reassurances about the good faith of the drillers, or the reliability of the DEC to enforce protections (with the agency being cut back).
All knew that powerful energy interests will lobby, mislead and meddle in local affairs. Now SO has fielded more than 30 pro-home rule candidates, 11 of whom are on Sustainable Otsego's own ballot line, with more than 20 more endorsed as anti-fracking.
Democratic candidates are essentially against fracking. But fracking is not just a single-issue matter. It is a game-changer that brings into focus how government and politics interact. It speaks to the issue of leadership.
Anti-fracking candidates have explored myriad ramifications gas drilling would hold for us. Dangers include lower air quality, water contamination, road degradation.
There are questions about property rights and property values being compromised. There would be 24-hour lights, noise and an influx of transient-industry workers.
We can breathe deeply of fresh and fragrant air, drink from clean and sparkling sources of water and gaze out over fields and forests green. About 35 percent see piles of green to harvest for the bank.
There is a kindred relationship between Democrats and their new sibling, Sustainable Otsego. Both want leadership to be responsive to the citizens. Both want low taxes and home rule.
The county should work to expand access to broadband services to encourage business here. Matters like getting out of MOSA, managing (not privatizing) Otsego Manor and providing forward-looking, long-term services mean unseating the incumbents.
Increasingly it is recognized that governing by committee is less than functional or efficient. Finding a way to add a professional manager in county government is important. But the most important issue of all this election offers the chance to get new leadership to face the many challenges coming along.
Once elected, officials have the duty to convert from campaigning to cooperation in providing fair government. In office, they must distinguish between rhetoric and cooperation. The current pattern of treating some constituents, and some colleagues, as enemies is dysfunctional.
Party loyalty cannot score ahead of being competent. For instance, appointing all committee chairmen from only one party serves power, not performance. Responding with passivity or hostility to community concerns is irresponsible.
Otsego County Rep. James Powers, R-Butternuts, once stood up 60 people who had invited him to meet, and when he finally did so, he stacked the deck by bringing allies in to argue rather than inquire about issues.
We need people who can respect and work with fellow office-holders, as well as with citizens. The recurring behavior of Carleton Delameter during Oneonta Town Board meetings, for example, was commonly infused with public disrespect and rudeness toward the supervisor, whom he is now trying to unseat. If he cannot honor that office, he should not seek to fill it.
William Masters can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.