Is it time for greater partisan transparency in local elections?

Several weeks ago, I found an attractive door flyer from a city council candidate waiting for me when I arrived home.  The colorful glossy piece offered interesting information about key issues.  Since it was for a city council seat, the flyer didn't mention party affiliation.  Maybe it's time party affiliation should be offered for local candidacies.

In today's very partisan environment, where Democrats and Republicans have completely opposing views on critical issues, it is imperative to know the political registration of all people running for office — especially city councils and school boards.  As former speaker of the United States House of Representatives Tip O'Neill famously said, "all politics is local."

Some states already do this; others don't.  The California Constitution states in Article II, section 6,

(a) All judicial, school, county, and city offices, including the Superintendent of Public Instruction, shall be non-partisan.

Argue all you want that local offices should be non-partisan, but unless you've been hiding in a cave (and maybe not even there), nothing in 2020 is non-partisan!

Some people would contend that city councils and school boards and other local elected positions should be non-partisan.  While party registration doesn't affect every decision made by city councils or school boards (naming a park, school, or library; who should give the speech at the Chamber of Commerce meeting; where to put up a statue, etc.), it can be helpful in deciding whom to vote for.  After all, a candidate's party affiliation lets citizens know how the candidate might vote on crucial issues.  For example:

City Councils — City council members determine police department budgets and hire chiefs of police.  The Democratic Party staunchly stands with Black Lives Matter and Antifa in wanting to defund or reduce law enforcement budgets.  Republicans, who believe in law and order, take the opposite view and want to maintain or increase police budgets.  A Democrat city council member might promote a "defund the police" position, while a Republican city council member might be more likely to support a "law and order" position.

School Boards — School boards across the country are determining how to best teach students American history.  Should the curriculum have a positive focus that promotes American exceptionalism, striving to be perfect while recognizing its mistakes?  Or should topics claim that the country hasn't changed much and remains racist to its core?  Democrat school board members might want to approve the "1619 Project" (developed by the über-liberal New York Times Magazine).  The overwhelming arch of the "1619 Project" is that America continues to be a racist nation, with a central focus on the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans.  Republican school board members might prefer students learn "1776 Unites," featuring black American historians, academics, and advocates who promote founding American values like entrepreneurship, self-determination, and mutual support.

Consider also that city council and school board members make hiring decisions to ensure the day-to-day operations of their cities or school districts.  Would a Democrat (especially one suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome) hire a Trump-supporting Republican?  Would a Republican (who detests Antifa's violence) want to hire a Democrat who supports the Marxist Black Lives Matter?

Moreover, many elected officials holding so-called non-partisan positions are active in their party's local and state activities.  They attend party meetings and give speeches at party events.  Do they really leave their party's doctrine at the door when sitting on city councils or school boards?

Political parties matter

The argument for keeping city councils, school boards, and other local elections out of partisan glare is to ensure that only the best qualified candidates who will serve all the residents are chosen by the people.  Who can argue with that? 

But isn't that the goal when electing every candidate?  The answer is a resounding yes!  Whether it's the state Legislature, U.S. Congress, governor, attorney general, secretary of state, vice president, or president, citizens should always vote for the best qualified candidate.

It makes little sense for voters to support their party's platform and vote the party line in state and national elections to then vote for candidates who are registered in the other party when it comes to their neighborhood's city council, school board, or other local positions.  If party registration is meaningless in local politics, then it is meaningless everywhere. And if it's meaningless everywhere, then we should all register as independents.

For most Americans, the political party they belong to is an introduction to their personal values and core beliefs.  With the Democratic and Republican Parties having dramatically opposing views on many important issues, it matters a great deal which party your city council or school board members are politically aligned with.  The good news is that this information can be found on the internet, but only by engaged and tech-savvy voters.  In 2020, party registration should be central to deciding who gets your votes for city council, school board, and all local offices.  Aren't we overdue for greater election transparency?

Image: Tom Arthur via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0.

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