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December 24, 2008 06:00 PM UTC

Come Out Of Your "Nonpartisan" Closet, Say Dems

  • by: Colorado Pols

As the Pueblo Chieftain reports:

When candidates run for Pueblo City Council, their political party isn’t supposed to be a part of the equation. Pueblo County Democrats are making plans – at least in a limited way – to change that.

Pueblo County Democratic Chairman Terry Hart said his party plans to step up recruitment of city council candidates and also assist them with their campaigns. “We’ve actually been talking about it for a couple of years but we’ve always stepped aside because local races are considered nonpartisan,” Hart said.

Making local races a partisan affair has been under consideration by Democrats since it became clear that the Republican Party works hard to groom quality candidates by sending them through local boards and councils first, Hart said.

The idea has gained more momentum in the past year because of discontent with the current council – a majority of whom are Republicans…

Hart said his party realizes that once candidates are on the ballot, there will be no party affiliation listed. Regardless, the party will encourage the candidates to mention their party affiliation in their literature and signs, he said. The party also will work with candidates on their campaigns, he said.

It provokes a a very interesting question, relevant in a lot of places outside of Pueblo: should pretenses about “nonpartisanship” in local elections be discarded? Especially if “nonpartisan” city councils, district boards, etc. are being co-opted as proving/name ID-gathering grounds for Republicans–in this case, in a city that naturally tends to elect Democrats?

At the end of a year where “Republican” under one’s name on a ballot was in many cases a death sentence, you can understand why Democrats would want to make an issue of party affiliation everywhere they can–and why Republicans wouldn’t. We say some of the desire for this is temporary–shoes do have a way of making it around to the other proverbial foot. And of course there is the question of whether turning these local races into partisan flamewars would be good for local governments on a functional level. There’s no question it would be a positive development for our new websites.

A poll follows.

Should city council and other local government elections be more openly partisan?

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10 thoughts on “Come Out Of Your “Nonpartisan” Closet, Say Dems

  1. So often lately, city councils/town boards are dealing with issues that really are related to a certain ideological viewpoint. I’ve often wondered why all the pretense about these elections being non partisan.

    I don’t agree that it’s a good idea for school boards. We have quite a few Republicans that have served on our school board and to be truthful, I’d have been less inclined to have voted for them if I had known their party affiliation at the time they ran for office. And that would have been a huge mistake on my part because they’ve done a fantastic job.

    Sometimes when people vote, they look no further than party affiliation and I don’t think I want to see that level of divisiveness in my local school district.

  2. There’s been some tut-tutting in Fort Collins after Tom Griggs announced for mayor…with Bob Bacon, Randy Fischer, and John Kefalas at his side.

    City of Fort Collins elections are nonpartisan, but Griggs has strong ties to the Democratic Party. He is the chairman for the Colorado Democratic Party 4th Congressional District Caucus, and state Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Bob Bacon and Reps. Randy Fischer and John Kefalas, stood with Griggs on Saturday.

    Most of the complaining, oddly enough, has come from the local Republicans and their proxies.

    It’s an interesting question, however. The lines are pretty mobile on the “partisanship” question. It’s a myth that local politics don’t have local Democratic and Republican folks involved. In one respect, the local parties have folks building resumes and the like by working in local governments. More likely — and to no surprise — they are also often the few people who are interested enough in government to participate and actually sit on a board or commission.

    And in local elections, people that care usually know who “their” guy is anyway. During this, everyone (especially the press) keeps up this pretense of election purity, but it’s a pretense. In the Fort Collins case, it’s the press that actually drew the (bluntly obvious) conclusion, and then complained about said conclusion.

    At this point, the question is whether the outrage is over the loss of a “non-partisanship” that didn’t really exist, or the loss of a silly pretense.  

  3. With the party apparatus and its apparatchiks finding members of the party and encouraging their involvement.  Heck, I think it’s an outstanding way of doing business, both for a political platform and party, as well as for the health of representative government in general.  

    But when you start throwing down the big bucks for the campaign itself, the line gets a little blurrier.  Heck, that’s the main advantage of “non-partisan” elections – money isn’t quite the factor it is in bigger races.  And that makes it more open for motivated people regardless of most economic situations.

    And that, too, is healthy for representative government.  

  4. At least here in the Littleton, Centennial, Greenwood Village area of Arapahoe County the parties try to do a pretty good job of getting the word out as to who is “their” candidate and who is the “other” party’s. Of course all but the most involved voters often don’t know who’s who and it’s not easy to find out.

    On the other hand, there are often candidates for, say, city council, competing against one another who are of the same party. Generally one is favored by the local party establishment over the other.

    We have a couple of City Council members in Littleton, for instance, who are registered D but who are part of an anti-tax, anti-growth coalition, more allied with the Doug Bruce types, and are not involved at all with their fellow local Dems through the party structure. So putting a D on the ballot could lead people to make wrong assumptions about what these people stand for.

    Maybe at the most local level it’s best to keep it nominally non-partisan and for the parties to try their best to get word out on where the candidates stand on specific issues.

  5. I think non-partisan elections are good for the local level.  Having a party affliation makes things easy for people as they would justify their vote for or against someone based on the letter after their name.  Having non-partisan elections means that to make an educated vote, you have to get out there and learn more about the person.  Of course one should always do that sort of research, but non-partisan elections help facilitate that.

    Also, don’t forget that Colorado has a high amount of independents and unaffliated voters.  Non-partisan elections are one of the few avenues where an unaffliated candidate can get in and participate in elected office.  Removing that option would alienate that large segment of the population from elective office.

  6. but keep it officially non-partisian with no primaries. So we are given a choice amoung a bunch of candidates, some Dem, some Rep, some other.

    This way we are left with a lot more choice in the election. Although up here in Boulder they basically elect the Sierra Club endorsed candidates.

  7. There is no realistic way to completely separate party from candidates, nor any real way of preventing parties from recruiting candidates for non-partisan positions.  Pretending that this isn’t true doesn’t make it so.

    On the other hand, the election itself can remain “non-partisan” by prohibiting parties from fundraising or donating to non-partisan races, and by not placing a party affiliation on the ballot next to the candidate’s name.

    That’s really about as far as you can go, I think.  The Republicans have long and long recruited their candidates for higher offices by first running them through school boards and other local races. and they’ve made an effort to “stack” school boards in order to push their agendas.  Other parties should be doing the same – at least from a recruitment POV.  That includes most especially the third parties, whose best chance of moving up the food chain is to get involved at the local level and gain a bullpen of good players.

  8. In Colorado Springs, where I had the honor of serving a couple of terms on city council, city elections are non-partisan, as mandated by the city charter. I could never have been elected otherwise-too cantankerous, too unwilling to toe any party line.  That’s been true of the majority of councilmembers, including at least two great mayors-Bob Isaac & Mary Lou Makepeace. Neither of the latter two could have gotten the Repub nomination for any local office-but running for council only requires a couple of hundred sigs from registered voters. Elected repubs in C.S. are often blindly ideological wingnuts-but council majorities have, without exception, been composed of moderate, business-friendly, eminently sensible folks-almost all of whom began and ended their political ‘careers’ with their service on council.  As far as I’m concerned, the political parties just get in the way of good government.

  9. There are certainly pro’s and con’s to this question. On one hand city councilmembers can gain experience on policy issues (although local city policy issues are generally different then most of the issues t the state house for example) voting on yearly budgets and probably most importantly gaining experience with constituant concerns/issues. These councilmembers can use this experience when campaigning for and serving in higher office. However, please realize that sometimes, unfortunately, the situation shapes a persons point of view. Let me give you an example. The Colorado Municipal League CML, which is made up of city elected leaders are generally anti labor. People who start out in local government in Colorado take this “experience” with them to the statehouse. I will not mention any names but look at a former Mayor, democrat, who served in the military and now is in the statehouse who is anti labor. Another example is eminent domain. CML is very pro eminent domain. CML always lobbies against any changes to eminent domain laws at the capital. There were some reasonable limitation and boundaries written into law over the last several years at the statehouse that did not take eminent domain completely out of the tool box, but, there were reasonable boundaries established by the legislature. Cities do not want their state capital to make any changes to laws that they say threatens their “home rule city” status.

    In Thornton you now have several councilmembers who probably would be considered “partisan”. And, I do not consider “partisan” a bad word. Generally I would hope I could vote for a “D” and hope that that person believes in non-discrimination policies for example. Unfortunately that is not the case. In Feb2007ademocratic councilmember proposed adding sexual orientation to the cities EEO policy. It did not even come up for a vote because there were only two people on council at the time (one dem and one repub) that wanted to make the EEO change. By the way, the majority of the council were democrats.  Fortunately for us in  Thornton we had some very favorable city election results Nov 2007. The republican who agreed to the change became Mayor, the democrat city councilmember who originally made the proposal became the Mayor Pro-Tem, a very active dem beat a dem with very few democratic values, two dems that didn’t want the change for different reasons were term limited and were replaced by one unaffiliated councilmember and one republican who also agreed with the EEO change. And one dem and one repub on the council who did not want to make the EEO change in Feb actually voted for it the next time it came up because they did not want to be on the losing side of a vote. I say keep the local elections officially non-partisan and if the County parties want to get involved to groom their future candidates for higher office that is OK too.

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