Our View: Contested races best serve the public


When Republican Chris Marston announced earlier this year he would challenge 31-year incumbent Ed Semonian for clerk of court, the Alexandria Democratic Committee erupted in disbelief and outrage. The committee appeared to view this position as an entitlement and Marston’s candidacy as a personal affront.

It was wrong. No political party is entitled to any position. Contested elections result in a better-served public because candidates have to be responsive to what their constituents want. Incumbents are less likely to be complacent when they know poor performance will summon job competition.

Uncontested races are a problem across Virginia. In the Virginia House of Delegates, only 37 of 100 races have more than one candidate and only 27 of 100 are being sought by a Republican and a Democrat, according to Virginia Public Radio. Alexandria’s two seats in the House of Delegates are uncontested elections, with Democratic incumbents David Englin and Charniele Herring assured of re-election in the 45th and 46th districts.

That’s a shame. Not because of failings on the parts of Englin and Herring, but because the public deserves a choice. Alexandrians should celebrate the fact that the clerk of court’s race features two very qualified contestants.

The strangest part of local Democrats’ reaction to Marston’s candidacy was their charge that his very entering the race was a partisan action. Well, yes. A partisan is someone who is a member of a particular party, and Marston is a Republican. So, by definition, running in a race as a Republican or Democrat is a partisan action.

A good case could be made that no local elections — for clerk of court, sheriff or city council — should be partisan. Local governance is about competence at making things work, about balancing budgets and determining spending priorities. A party machine is hardly necessary to select people who will be good at those things.

Perhaps they meant the clerk of court’s position shouldn’t be an elected position at all. That would be a reasonable position, as this is an administrative job that requires competence, management skills and technological know-how, not necessarily political connections.

And what about the candidate who is, happily, being contested? Semonian has served Alexandria well and is universally hailed as an efficient clerk of court who gets along well with those he serves. There has never been a whiff of scandal or charges of favoritism in his actions.

Still, he’s held this post since 1979. Jimmy Carter was president in 1979, American hostages were being held in Iran and American airwaves were dominated by disco. A case can be made it’s time for a change, and challenger Marston is an appealing candidate. Marston is an intelligent and energetic veteran of federal and state government posts who has a long history of service in Alexandria and a mind for technology.

We are fortunate to have two qualified candidates running for clerk of court. Be sure to do your civic duty Tuesday, by going to the polls and voting.