Electric Elections

by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Exec. Editor

Richard Johnstone

If you thought this heading referred to the current pitched battles for the Republican and (more especially) Democratic nominations for President, then you’ll be disappointed. Then again, maybe you won’t be, especially if you’re weary of reading, hearing, or seeing coverage of these races virtually around the clock, for over a year now.

We all need a break from time to time, even in a democracy, and even with a campaign that has introduced us in both parties to exciting new candidates who are in turn exciting voters in a way that hasn’t been seen in over a quarter-century. After all, even the most ardent political junkie reaches a point where coverage becomes overage, and excitement becomes incitement, to think about or do something else for a while.

Like our nation, your electric cooperative is itself a democracy, overseen by a board of directors elected from the membership, by the membership. And, as you can imagine, electric cooperative elections bear little resemblance to national politics. Their mix of limited speechifying and neighborly handshaking resembles a town hall meeting or a PTA gather­ing more than a traditional political campaign.

But the post of cooperative board member is highly important, even if it’s not highly visible. The board members represent the interests of their fellow member-consumers as they make all policy decisions for their cooperative. Virginia ’s 13 locally owned and controlled electric cooperatives have some 116 individuals serving in these key elected positions, which are substantive, not ceremonial. Their duties involve many hours of studying relevant materials, participating in meetings, and fielding calls from and visiting with those they represent.

In their backgrounds and occupations, electric cooperative board members form a fascinating tapestry of Virginians. Woven within the fabric of these rural, small-town and suburban leaders are teachers and postal carriers and small business owners; corporate executives and lawyers and farmers; clerks of court and engineers and college professors; and veterinarians and retirees, too, to name but a few vocations represented by Virginia’s electric cooperative board members.

As we discuss regularly in these pages, all cooperative organizations — from housing to agricultural to electric co-ops — live by seven principles. These guiding principles were first formulated and articulated in

England more than 150 years ago, by some weavers who figured they could more successfully market their products if they worked together. They figured right, and the cooperative guidelines they developed later coalesced into the Seven Cooperative Principles, which were ultimately adopted across the globe by cooperatives of every sort.

(As a concept, of course, cooperatives have been around since men and women first realized that, by working together to build shelters and grow crops and domesticate animals and protect themselves, they could accomplish things that none of them could do alone.)

Of the Seven Cooperative Principles, the second one outlines the need for “democratic member control,” which sets forth the practice of “one member, one vote.” This second principle also embodies the way in which a cooperative is controlled by its members, who in turn elect the representatives who guide the cooperative and set its policies. In the case of electric cooperatives, this principle has been a steadfast reason for the success that we’ve enjoyed throughout our nearly 75-year history.

Beginning late this spring, through the summer and into early fall, electric cooperatives across Virginia will be holding annual meetings, at which board members will be elected or re-elected to these important posts. These meetings also feature reports from management about your utility, fellowship with your neighbors, and often refreshments and entertainment. Please put this annual meeting on your family’s calendar as soon as your cooperative advises you of it.

American civic life has always focused on the unifying act of voting. In doing so, we all thereby participate in a sacred act made possible by the sacrifices of countless heroes, both celebrated and anonymous, over the last 232 years. Your vote is crucial to the process, whether it’s on the dazzling stage of a Presidential election, or the down-home setting of a cooperative annual meeting.


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