Sunday, Aug. 20, 2006
stay out of non-partisan elections
SC Statehouse Report
20, 2006 - - If folks want local elections to be non-partisan,
parties ought to butt out. Unfortunately, there seems to be
a festering influence of political parties in local government
elections for city councils and school boards.
Last year, the Richland County Republican Party announced
it would endorse local candidates in the Columbia mayor's
race and city council election, a move that led The State
newspaper to say the party was trying to "hijack the
"The most likely effect will be that the very people
who ought to run for these essential local offices - - the
kind who want to serve the community and not a part - - will
refuse to run," the newspaper opined.
No matter, the party went ahead and endorsed.
Just this summer, five school board candidates in Charleston
grouped themselves as a slate they call the "A Team."
In and of itself, that's fine. But the Charleston group went
a big step further as an organized Republican effort to take
over the school board. Not only have they hired a former chairman
as a consultant, but they have had strategy meetings in the
office of the current local GOP chairman.
Fortunately, this "A Team," spearheaded by former
Congressman and state Sen. Arthur Ravenel, seems to be imploding.
In addition to the public departure of one of the members
after an internal spat, the State Ethics Commission has chastised
the team for extended joint fund-raising efforts. (As a senator,
Ravenel got a local bill passed in the legislature to make
Charleston County school board elections partisan; while the
bill became law, it was ruled out of order by the U.S. Justice
"To some degree, 'non-partisan' is a misnomer because
the people who get involved in politics tend to lean one way
or another," said Ethics Commission Executive Director
Herb Hayden. "It just seems as though the parties take
more interest in the 'non-partisan races' than they used to."
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Nancy Cook, current chair of the Charleston County School
Board, agreed there's nothing wrong with a group of candidates
running as a slate. But she worries about the increase in
partisanship in local elections.
"I understand politics has its place in a lot of things
in life," she said. "But in education, one of the
biggest things I have seen that has stymied the process is
politics. It gets in the way of the best interests of children.
And if the concern is not about children, it should be checked
at the door."
Across South Carolina, only six of 268 municipalities continue
to hold partisan elections, while only four of 85 school boards
do so, according to published reports.
Proponents of non-partisan local elections say they need
to be free of party influence because local government generally
is charged with delivering services - - water, sewer, fire
protection, police service and education. There's no way,
they say, to pick up the trash in a Republican or Democratic
But those who want to make elections more partisan say voters
want to know how people align themselves in terms of national
politics because that identification tells them something
about any candidate's values.
In our book, that's cynical rationalization. Voters are smarter
than party labels, which pollsters say have less and less
meaning to the electorate.
The point of all of this is non-partisan elections need to
be just that - - free of party influence. If individual candidates
want to tie themselves to parties as part of their campaign
strategy, that's fine. But when political parties take the
initiative to partisanize a process, local elections will
fall into the same explosive kettle that roils national and
state politics and keeps progress at bay.
So when you hear somebody who wants to partisanize a local
election, maybe they have another agenda - - to keep things
the same. In South Carolina, that's not going to do most folks
Send your ideas to Andy Brack, publisher
of S.C. Statehouse Report, at: email@example.com.
Brack's book of commentary, Bugging
the Palmettos, is available for
here for more.
8/20: One advantage
of the heat
Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:
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