Letters to the editor are one of the best ways to gauge the pulse of the community on important issues.
What are people most passionate about? Just turn to The Republic’s Opinion Page to find out.
Many Columbus area residents are interested in particular key topics, but they don’t write a letter to the editor because: 1) It takes time, and everyone’s busy; and 2) It means sticking your neck out.
Letters to the editor, after all, must be signed.
Unlike most Onions and Orchids, when you write letters to the editor and we publish them, everyone knows whom they are from. We list the writer’s name and community. Frankly, writing a letter takes guts — especially when weighing in on the most controversial of subjects. Publishing a letter that unveils someone’s personal beliefs opens them to potential criticism from someone else who sees things diametrically opposite. And if you are a regular reader of letters to the editor, you know this happens.
Examining the published letters from the first five months of this year, I have tallied the Sizzling Seven topics that have dominated the Opinion Page. Sixty percent of the 242 signed, submitted and published letters to the editor were about one of the top seven topics.
Primary election: 70
City Hall/parks controversy: 27
Gun control: 18
Crump/Sears renovation decisions: 10
Roundabouts for southern Bartholomew County: 7
Marriage equality: 6
Proposed hog farm for eastern Bartholomew County: 6
I have been in the newspaper business for a long time and worked at six daily newspapers in five states across the Midwest — in Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. I have never seen as many letters to the editor as I saw published in The Republic leading up to the May 6 primary.
Some people might say that many of these were orchestrated by the candidates’ campaigns. Maybe so. But our rules didn’t change for candidate campaign letters. People still had to sign their names in expressing public support for one candidate or another.
When it seems that most voters would rather hand out their personal credit cards or Social Security numbers than tell their neighbors whom they picked when punching electronic ballots, I think the high number of election letters does express their passions.
Take election letters off the list, however, and you get to the real hot-button issues we have reported on and people have courageously written about over the past five months.
The political power struggle between Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown and the Columbus City Council/Parks and Recreation Board alliance over control of the city parks has polarized political watchers.
Ben Wagner, the former parks director who was demoted by Brown and then resigned five months later, was in the opening scene of this saga. But as the story has played out, most of the letter writers who have weighed in on the issue have cast Brown herself as the story’s central figure — either the hero or villain, depending on their point of view.
Her supporters say the first-term mayor is doing exactly what she promised when campaigning in 2011 to change the way Columbus does business. Her critics, however, contend that Brown has veered off course from the way Columbus earned its reputation as one of the nation’s finest cities.
Which one’s right?
We’ll have a pretty good idea 11 months from now when ballots are cast and counted in the citywide 2015 spring primary. And although no candidate has of yet officially stepped forward to announce a run for the mayor’s office, it appears safe to say that some of the campaign literature is already in draft stage. You have been reading it for five months on the front page and Opinion Page of The Republic.
Besides the straw poll on Brown, runner-up in our tally of letters was gun control — another polarizing topic. With yet another deadly shooting this week in one of our nation’s schools, on the heels of the accidental shooting at a Columbus Walmart, don’t expect this issue to quietly disappear from the political forum.