Herald reporter Kristi Pihl's recent article pointing out the dearth of minorities holding elected office in the Mid-Columbia sheds light on a problem worth exploring.
The Herald's unofficial census of officeholders in Benton and Franklin counties showed only six of 160 elected officials represented ethnic and racial minorities. Twenty-three percent of the officials were women.
Even though we know the census missed a few folks, proportionately, the numbers still amount to a woeful underrepresentation of the women and minorities living in our community.
In a two-county community where nearly 30 percent of the 253,340 residents are Hispanic, it's easy to see that a significant part of the population is left out of the political process.
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Pihl's reporting reignited a continuing discussion among editorial board members about how people become leaders and decide to run for public office.
A lot of folks just don't have the time. They are employees whose every spare minute is spent bringing home a paycheck or spending time with family.
Many of us, regardless of race or gender, would like to participate in government but are unwilling or unable to put in the time it takes to be part of the process.
Others may not feel welcome, and that's a shame.
Leadership needs to be welcoming to all comers, and not just be a network of middle-aged white males, a category which all six of the county commissioners fall into.
That's not a criticism of those who hold public office. Politician is a dirty word in some circles, but not to us. Every candidate is willing to step up to a challenge, and the winners must survive an often grueling election process.
We expect our leaders to be making decisions in the best interest of all their constituents. The benefit of diversity isn't about favoring one group over another.
It's about drawing on the entire community's pool of wisdom and talent. When one demographic group dominates the field, we're not making the best use of our resources.
So just how do we get more diversity into our community's leadership roles?
That's a good question, one that hearkens back to the question of whether leaders are born or made. Just what spurs someone into action, to make a personal sacrifice for the community's benefit?
To put oneself up to constant scrutiny and criticism that comes with elected office takes a thick skin, no matter the color.
Pasco's population is more than 50 percent Hispanic, yet that city never has elected a Hispanic city council member. That's not to say Hispanic candidates have not run for election, but none succeeded. That may change this fall, when Saul Martinez -- who was appointed to the council to fill a vacancy -- is up for election.
But what's taking so long? White residents of Franklin County haven't been in the majority for more than a decade. Have the Hispanic candidates not been good enough? Have the voters not turned out in sufficient numbers? Does race seem like a barrier to elected office? Does it take a generation or two for leaders to emerge and embrace the political process?
Running for public office can be daunting for all candidates, whether they were born and raised here and are native English speakers or not.
But there are many other ways to get involved, from parent organizations at schools to planning commissions and charity organizations.
We must find a way to have a better representation of our community as a whole in all manner of organizations and elected offices.
How we accomplish that goal is a thought-provoking topic, and one that ought to capture every Tri-Citian's attention.
We can't leave growing segments of our population out of the process and expect to reach our full potential.