Why does party matter?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 17, 2012

One week ago today, former River Falls Mayor Mary Hixon was arrested for stealing more than $201,000.

Since then, one question has been posed to me countless times – Is Mrs. Hixon a Republican or a Democrat?

My answer: Who cares?

Truthfully, my exact response was, “One is not required to declare a political party when seeking municipal office; however, I checked her voter registration records, which states ‘Party Not Declared.’ ”

Since then, I’ve gotten at least five emails, and I vaguely remember a phone call or two about it last week.

On Tuesday, I got a very snippy voicemail from someone with a 765-area code who said the aforementioned political affiliation was pertinent information that should have been included in my stories. A Google search revealed it was a landline from a man in Indiana.

After giving my answer, I ended the email with “Just out of curiosity, what does it matter?” I never got a response.

I hope what he – and the others – got out of the story was this: In South Alabama, a thief is a thief, and we don’t care if you’re a Democrat or a Republican, an Independent or a “Party Not Declared.”

With mentions in news feeds for CBS, ABC, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and Time, and even media outlets abroad, I think it’s safe to say the world knows that in Covington County, we don’t tolerate that kind of thing.

I am proud to say that Star-News staff gave law enforcement the mechanism needed to start a criminal investigation when we reported about the illegal sale of the town’s old town hall property.

All it took was a property deed – one piece of paper, easily found in the county probate office in a search done on a whim after collecting campaign finance reports – to start a domino effect that uncovered years of wrongdoing.

District Attorney Walt Merrell said last week, the incident stood as a lesson for municipal governments – don’t let the power become too centralized because we know the saying, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

What I want to say is this: It’s very easy to become complacent – in office, on the board or in the newsroom. We should all work against that.

As public officials and stewards of public money, know people are now watching a little closer.

Know, that as a newspaper staff, we are working to be a part of that check and balance system.

And know, that as a resident – be you Democrat, Republican or whatever – it is your right to demand solid and truthful representation both in print and in office.