Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Put Me In The 'Don't' Category

Hometown paper, the Daily Breeze (News Pilot, we still miss you) looks at partisan politics "infiltration" of local, non-partisan races, nothing that some view this "as an alarming trend. Others don't."

First, a disclaimer - the article opens telling of mailers calling candidates of one party candidates of another party. That kind of political "infiltration" is bad. In fact, it's not partisan politics at all; it's just plain lying.

But party endorsements or campaigning on behalf of candidates in non-partisan races isn't evil. In fact, it's helpful. Look at it this way, the neatest, most direct shorthand information on a ballot indicating to voters the views, values, political leanings, etc, is the party ID tag. Take that away and what's left? Names? Potentially fluffed occupation tags?

Of course, in states like West Virginia where - outside the presidential race (argh), all real races are determined on primary ballots pitting Democrat against Democrat - everyone is a Democrat whether they are or not, so party ID isn't always as telling as it could be. One quoted PoliSci prof says unveiling the partisan influences allows voters to reject it if they don't like it, and reaffirms that some may appreciate the activity as offering another voting cue.

One outgoing beach city councilman calls it "disappointing" that it has come to local candidates looking to parties for money and endorsements, saying "as an elected official, your constituents are whom you answer to."

Well, these people - at least some of them - don't have constituents yet because they're still trying to get the job. And when/if they do get the job, those constituents will still be partisan and free to write checks or withhold support as they choose.

Term limits at the state level are partly to blame for this trend. Local governments may have always been Sacramento farm teams, but players' movements up and down are accelerated by the few terms they're allowed to spend in the Legislature. Parties feel they have to develop next season's lineup earlier and with more guidance.

Also, any reader out there with experience in both local and larger races might raise a brow at the notion that "the worst aspects of politics in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. are starting to invade the beach cities." Partisan money may cause some waves along the coast - but there are few things in the world as nasty, brutish, and long as local politics. Neighbor against neighbor, the battle for a dog park, community center, or zoning change is usually ten-thousand times dirtier than a statewide budget battle or even the national social security debate. They aren't quite as ugly as student council races - but to paraphrase an old political adage - the lower the stakes, the more vile the campaign.

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