The "old timers" here (get off my lawn, kids!) might remember the "Lupin Exodus" diaries we posted here when Mrs. Lupin and I chose to leave Los Angeles in late 2004 to relocate to small village (pop. 1000) in the Languedoc region of Southern France.
Or you might remember another series of diaries posted in late 2007 when we were forced to move Mrs. Lupin 84-year-old Mom to our village after she lost her husband to liver cancer. (She too eventually passed away in 2011.)
Well, after nine years of reasonably peaceful life in our village, something rather unexpected has happened: the undersigned (Mr. Lupin) was asked to join one of the two slates of candidates running for the positions of Mayor and City Council!
(more under he orange mystic symbol of entropy)
"Municipal elections" as they're called here are held every six years. For a village of 1000 inhabitants like ours, a slate must have 15 candidates, divided between 7/8 men/women (or vice-versa).
For the first time, voters are supposed to vote for a slate in its entirety. In the past, they could pick and choose amongst candidates from both slates, but this year, this is no longer possible for cities over 1000 inhabitants.
The voting will be held on March 23, with a second round on March 30 if no slate receives more than 50-% of the votes the first time around.
In our village, the incumbent Mayor (two terms) chose to nut run again, because of age. Not surprisingly, the Municipal Council split into two camps, leading to the creation of two competing slates. (There was at one point gossip about a third slate, but the person in question did not succeed in getting 14 other persons to join him.)
Our slate is led by a man who also holds a position on the Regional or County Board of Supervisors. At the risk of oversimplifying, he chose as his co-runners only 4 people from the old council, making room for "new blood" comprised of (relative) newcomers with a higher degree of professional experience & competence.
By contrast, the opposing slate is run by older Councillors, better known amongst the population, but less likely to promote change and take more progressive actions.
Politically, both slides are center-left, ideologically close to the French Socialist Party which has a strong foothold in our Region. Happily, the National Front right-wing isn't represented, or even a factor in these elections.
Even though we have lived in the village for nine years, we are indeed "newcomers". A true resident is one whose grandparents were born here! I was asked to join the slate by the County Supervisor as part of the "new blood" mentioned above because of (a) various cultural activities that we have created/organized in the village for the last 8 years, and (b) my professional resume. In effect, I'll be the person in charge of culture and communications.
Needless to say, it was very flattering to be asked. We are known here (and will always be known) as "the Americans" and I can't help wondering if a slate running in, say, rural Kentucky or Tennessee would be as likely to ask an hypothetical "Frenchman" living amongst them to join them?
Anyone with EU citizenship can be a candidate (and be elected) in the local elections. (Not the national ones for representatives, president, etc.) When we were married long ago, Mrs Lupin and I took steps to both become dual citizens so we're both voters and eligible.
The deadline for filing slates was March 6. The pre-campaign began very softly, the main difficulty being getting the right 15 people. In our slate, 2 people quit early for reasons of incompatibility with other members (a "it's him or me" type of thing), 1 quit because he wasn't promised the position he sought in case of victory, and, ore surprisingly, one person left at almost the last minute to join the competing slate, because she had been promised a better position on it.
At the risk of sounding mercenary, there is some remuneration involved: 1300 euros/moth for the Mayor, about 800 euros for his official Deputies (4 I believe) and about 400 euros/month for the rest of the council members. Sadly, this plays a part in some people's decisions to run or not run.
Now the slates have been finalized and the actual campaign has begun. There is virtually no role being played by the media: no TV, and only tiny articles in the local newspapers. For those curious to see it, here is the official announcement for our slate in one of the two local papers servicing the region.
The campaign is basically door-to-door, shaking hands & introducing ourselves, supplemented by one official poster, one official campaign statement (two-sided page) (by official, I mean costs covered by public campaign financing), and a few leaflets financed & distributed by the various slate members in people's mailboxes. There may be a public meeting, but no debate. (We would welcome one but the other slate doesn't want to have it.)
As I type this, I've finished the first leaflet dealing with our proposals to improve the local economy and social life of the village; meanwhile my fellow candidates are knocking on doors. The weather is superb and it's a good day to be out campaigning.
The tone of the campaign is, I'd say, 75% positive; and the 25% negative is not rubbish or slander. For example, our slate is pointing out that we're all more experienced, competent and available to do the job than the other slate. They, on the other hand, are certain to point out that we're (relatively speaking) "strangers."
Our slate supports the creation of a local mineralogy museum; the other slate is purposefully inflating the costs (actually mostly subsidized) associated with the project.
We're not dealing with Koch-financed, FOX-type of preposterous lies here. Nobody ever mentions so-called "values" or other personal/private issues. That's not even on the map. The worst personal attack I've heard is someone accusing (not without merit) the person who switched slates at the last minute of being a "girouette" (going where the wind blows).
In all fairness I have to say that both slates do care about the future of our village -- it's merely that I sincerely believe our team is better able to do good during these tough economic times.
The first round of voting is on Sunday March 23. Voters will go to the town hall. They will pick two separate pieces of papers -- one for each slate -- and an envelope. They'll go into a booth, put one leaflet inside the envelope, seal it, and discard the other in a bin. Then they will go to the table where the current Mayor, and his Deputies (and representatives of the two Slates) sit.
One of the Deputies will check your name and ID against the roster of eligible voters, and you'll drop the envelope inside a plexiglass box. At the end of the day, they open the box, open the envelopes, and count the bulletins in two piles. That's it. No chads or electronic gimmicks.
If you are interested, I'll post news about the campaign (as it were) and certainly the results on March 23 or 30 depending.