November 8, 2013 10:14:10 AM
Oktibbeha County along with several nearby local governments had special elections this week. In our case it was for county prosecutor. Our prosecutor of 30 years retired and the Board of Supervisors appointed an interim until they could hold a special election. The local Democratic and Republican parties predictably kicked into gear on behalf of their candidates. For the life of me I can't see that our last 30 years of a Republican county prosecutor will be any different than our next years with a Democratic prosecutor.
Roy Carpenter brought dedication and integrity to his position, and I have no doubt Haley Brown will do likewise without any connection to the representative beliefs from either party. The distinction between local candidates should allow for qualifications and experience and people skills, not party affiliation.
According to the National League of Cities, 77 percent of the local elections in this country are non-partisan. It's a shame Mississippi communities are not among these. Where a candidate in a municipal election stands on party platform issues of universal healthcare or a Supreme Court justice appointment, choice or the war in Afghanistan is of no relevance to me with my boots on the ground in Starkville, Mississippi. His or her affiliation may tell me whether or not the candidate and I have enough in common for a nice discussion over dinner, but that's pretty much it. I care about those positions on issues when I vote in national and state elections, but they are of no concern in local races.
Reliance on party membership answers no questions about whether the candidate believes additional taxes are necessary for the operation of the municipal government or whether he/she believes that the city needs to bid out garbage service or concentrate on building sidewalks or modifying the comprehensive plan.
Cloaking a local government candidate with a party affiliation does a disservice to the candidates, the office and the electorate. It deters dialogue about the issues facing the city or county and lets the candidates hide behind what will be support based on affiliation, not on intelligent debate and opinions about the issues. It allows the voter to shirk their duty to be informed when they vote by simply opting for the party affiliation that they use on national issues. It facilitates the "dumbing down" of our local election process.
Who can argue with Tip O'Neill's famous dictum that all politics is local. It is a perfectly acceptable option to have non-partisan elections for local positions and judgeships.
In Starkville's most recent municipal election three of the candidates did not even bother to come to the public candidate forums. You never knew what issues were important to them or what they supported. The only information available was the party affiliation and you have to surmise that it was from that connection that they succeeded in getting elected.
It's like buying an unclaimed baggage from that place in Scottsboro, Ala. You pay your quarter and you take your chances. That kind of gamble can be fun for a suitcase but not for elected officials.
If we know which party someone claims when they are running for office, we automatically make assumptions about what they support. Rightly or wrongly we tend to presume to know what position they have on various issues. So the Republican alderman will vote against a tax increase and the Democratic alderman will vote for. Not so fast; exactly the opposite occurred in Starkville. That takes us back to needing the elections to be issues driven with no party politics setting the stage for blind acceptance and support. Party swapping is not uncommon at the local level but it is hard to believe it is not driven by getting elected rather than by ideological issues.
The bottom line is for the voters to do their homework and take the time to ask the substantive questions. But we are an inherently trusting constituency believing that no matter who gets elected everything will be OK. We should remember the admonishment of Thomas Jefferson who said the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. To that I would add, even at the local level, especially at the local level.