Pickles and Wines, and That

By | September 26, 2018

For the first time in my entire life, I’m running for public office.

Namely, for the not-terribly-impressive position of “Justice of the Peace” in my little 4,000-person town of Richmond, Vermont.

“Justice of the Peace” (the Vermont version, anyway) isn’t exactly what you may recall from old Westerns. Richmond and other towns our size get to elect twelve. The JotPs are tasked with administering local elections, ruling on property tax appeals and abatements, officiating at weddings, serving as notaries public, and if so commissioned by the Supreme Court of Vermont, serving as magistrates. But, for all practical purposes they’re the town election commission. (If you want to know more, the Vermont Secretary of State has a guide to the office that you can view.)

We’ve been happily electing them every two years since 1850.. and other than greeting me as I sign in at the polls to vote each Election Day, they’ve had essentially zero impact on my life.

So why the hell do I want to serve as one?

I already am a town officer, of course — I was appointed “Weigher of Coal” for the town of Richmond a few years ago and have been reappointed each year since. That job has no actual duties whatsoever (and no pay either), so it’s hardly been a major demand on my time. (I wrote about this, incidentally, in the May 11, 2018 edition of the Washington Post.) But I guess my craving for power hasn’t yet been satisfied, right?

George MacDonald Fraser shared his own answer to a similar question in his comic story of life in the British army immediately after World War II, “Monsoon Selection Board”. When interviewed by an examining psychiatrist about why he wanted to become an officer in His Majesty’s Army, Fraser wrote:

“The honest answer of course is to say, like Israel Hands1in Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island’, ‘Because I want their pickles and wines, and that’, and add that you are sick of being shoved around like low-life and want to lord it over your fellow-man for a change.”

But honest answer never won fair psychiatrist yet.”

The actual, absolutely truthful answer to why I’m running is, frankly, for the novelty of it2“for shits and giggles”, if you prefer.

You see, it hasn’t escaped me that there’s usually not a lot of competition for the job. Most years we have just about enough people running to fill all the slots, with a few surplus candidates left over. (In 2016, we had exactly twelve candidates for twelve JotP slots.) Thus, by running, one has a better than average chance of actually getting elected, assuming that the average voter has little if any idea who most of the people running actually are.

Okay, I may be wrong about that. Certainly people who’ve lived their entire life in Richmond are fairly well informed as to who’s who in the power elite, but otherwise, I sort of suspect that most voters tick off all the candidates for their preferred political party, if any, and then finish out their twelve by picking people with interesting names.

When I decided I wanted to throw my propeller beanie in the ring, I had a choice of running as an independent or as a Democrat. (Or as a Republican, but come on.) If I ran as an independent, I’d have to wander around gathering signatures for my petition (30 signatures or 1 percent of legal voters of town, whichever is less) and if I got the local Democrats to put my name on the ballot, I’d be spared that effort. The Democrats have dutifully been sharing power in this regard with the Republicans for a few years; a “gentleman’s agreement” between the two parties called for each to nominate six and thereby split the work. But, given that I was interested and that six others were already interested as well, the Dems made an attempt to reach out to the Republicans in a gesture of interparty amity — would it be okay if they ran seven? They weren’t able to track the town GOP committee down, so for better or for worse, I was added to the roster. In the end, the Republicans only put up four candidates — in addition to two independents — and so the question was more or less moot.

We wound up with thirteen candidates for twelve seats. Six Democratic incumbents are running again, as are four incumbent Republicans and one incumbent independent. On top of that, there’s one new Republican candidate, one new independent candidate, and one new Democratic candidate (me). Do the math. It’s a game of musical chairs and one person’s going to get left out.

If that winds up being me, no big loss. If I do get elected, I have every intention of actually doing the work — town elections don’t run themselves, and on the off chance that a taxpayer appeals their assessment or asks for an abatement, I’ll be happy to weigh in. I don’t know that there’s a lot of need for me to work as a notary or serve as a magistrate, but hey. I’m game if it comes up. And needless to say, I think I’d quite enjoy conducting weddings. The state of Vermont makes clear that there’s really no prescribed set of vows or other legal phrasing one has to use, so if a couple wants me to dress up as a priest of Cthulhu and conduct the entire wedding in Deep Old One, it’s legal so long as they have a valid wedding license and it’s all properly signed.

And at the end of the day, no matter the outcome, I can say I got to see my own name on an election ballot that actually mattered, win or lose. That’s something, I guess. But, obviously, I do hope I win. Bring on the pickles and wine. Arr!


1 in Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island’
2 “for shits and giggles”, if you prefer
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