The timing is right for taking politics out of local elections

March 05, 2011
  • Callaham

Hello readers, although it is my intent to provide some unvarnished statements from local leaders concerning their views on the subject of leadership, that intent will have to move to the backseat for a short while. A very interesting issue came to light last week and I believe it deserves some immediate comment. Del. Leroy Myers submitted two bills for consideration by the Maryland General Assembly concerning nonpartisan elections.

Myers proposed one bill to elect local candidates to the offices of the county treasurer, the clerk of the Circuit Court and the register of wills via nonpartisan elections. Leroy proposed a separate bill to elect the sheriff in a similar nonpartisan election.

These nonpartisan elections, if voted into law for "locals," will help depoliticize offices and officers elected to: account for the money collected as tax revenue, schedule and organize our courts, document our desires when we move into the afterlife and protect the citizens of our county. None of these functions are very political in nature. Some wise folks, years ago, took politics out of educating our most valuable human asset — our children. Now a legislator wants to do the same for other government functions. Leroy, the time is right!

Now before all of the Mail Callers get on the phone, let me clearly state that I'm not opposed to partisan politics and/or partisan elections. At the national level and quite probably at the state level, party affiliation and a partisan election makes a lot of sense. I don't know about you but I never had the opportunity to sit and talk with then-candidate Obama, or his rival, candidate McCain. Like the majority of Americans I depended on my party to advise me concerning the "best candidate for the job" and also for rival parties to justify their candidate.

I did, however, have the chance to see, talk to and compare local candidates for local offices. I was able to decide for myself, based upon my firsthand observations, who was the best candidate for the job. Party affiliation seldom crossed my mind when I cast my vote for local offices. Why? Because I had specific knowledge, not just "platform knowledge" about local candidates.

The justifications, both by my party and the other parties, are presumably based on a "platform" established at party conventions and modified by party functionaries throughout election cycles. Those platforms, in theory, identify candidates' positions on major issues confronting our nation or state. For example, one major plank in the Democrat platform in the most recent national election was mandated "health care for all," while the Republican platform took a voluntary, not mandated health care approach.

People like you and I can then align ourselves with a particular party and a candidate because we believe we know where that candidate stands on particular issues based upon the national or state platform. Quite obviously, candidates deviate from party platforms all of the time, seldom is a candidate absolutely in line with that candidate's party platform. However, using the party platform as a base, those of us who care to be informed, have the opportunity during the election cycle to listen to candidates and judge whether a specific candidate ascribes to our particular beliefs or deviates enough to lose our individual support and vote.

I will stop here with my tutorial concerning political parties, platforms and campaigning. The point I want to make is: At the local level, we seldom see a candidate who ascribes to anything close to the National or State Party's Platform concerning local issues. I'll use one of my favorite clichés concerning politics in Washington County, Maryland: "There are no Democrats in Washington County only — registered' Democrats." What I mean by that is most people that I know in our county, whether Republican or Democrat or other party by registration, are fiscal conservatives, Second Amendment supporters, strong on national defense, want less government, and lower taxes. Any or all of these positions, from time to time here locally, may differ from parts of national or state party platforms. At the national level and maybe even at the state party level, most of us would be unrecognizable as "pure" Democrat, Green, Independent, Libertarian or Republican.

So at the local level, my thesis is simply that party affiliation doesn't amount to much; therefore, why bother with partisan elections. Rather, elect the best person for the job based upon local issues and the candidate's position on those local issues, not national or state party affiliation. Myers' bills are a great first step, maybe we should look at other offices for consideration for nonpartisan elections. I for one am tired of local candidates running for locally elected positions being demonized simply because they are registered with a specific national or state party. Locally, let's elect the best person for the job, not the person registered with our favorite national party.

Art Callaham is a local community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees.

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