Political Parties In A Nonpartisan Election
GLORIA PENNER (Host): Just over three weeks until the June 8th election and most voters should have received their sample ballots with a combination of partisan and nonpartisan contests. The partisan, of course, include governor, U.S. Senator, Congress, other state offices with party affiliations. The nonpartisan are local races such as county supervisors, sheriff, city councils, all the propositions. But this year political parties are very active in those nonpartisan elections that are supposed to be free of political party involvement. Kent, I sense that the local Republican Party is particularly energized this year, even sending out a fundraising letter in the sample ballot to registered Republicans. What’s going on there?
KENT DAVY (Editor, North County Times): Well, the latter thing that you talk about is a – I think it’s politics as usual in this sense. The Republicans countywide discovered that there was, by a provision in state election law, the ability for them to, at the county’s mailing cost, slip a slate mailer into the Republican ballot – sample ballots. That went to Republican voters in Chula Vista and they had a prop there that the Republican Party was interested in, and Oceanside where there is not only a charter amendment prop but also a very hotly contested special election for an empty council seat. The Democrats went to court to try and stop it, were told no, and have reacted with a great deal of anger that this is somehow or another dirty politics. My guess, it’s like kind of a one-upmanship and I had a Republican Party member, I guess, note to me the other day that he thought that probably both parties would be doing it next year. Although, as a taxpayer with the notion that my tax dollars get to carry a party message out in sample ballots, strikes me as not good politics.
PENNER: Well, this is true. Now Republicans do pay for that insert, Barbara…
PENNER: …but the taxpayers are paying for having it sent. And the Democrats suggest, well, that’s because two county supervisors who are up for reelection who oversee the Registrar of Voters who sent out the insert, are Republicans. Do you think that that…
BARBARA BRY (Associate Publisher/Executive Editor, SDNN.com): Well, Gloria, everything’s politics and probably the Democrats are sorry they didn’t think about doing it and they’ll do it next time. The other advantage I see that this insert has, you know, when you get all that stuff in the mail, you general – I mean, in my house, a lot of it just goes into the trash pretty quickly. But when it comes in the official ballot, you’re more likely to open it and look at it, so – or, yeah, so that, I think, is a big advantage, you know, to doing it. Not that I think it’s the right thing to do but it’s a big advantage.
PENNER: Let me just, before I turn to JW on this question, let me ask our listeners about this. So do you sense that the political parties are getting more involved in county and local elections and is this a good or bad thing? Do you want to know whether the candidate you’re considering to vote for for supervisor or sheriff or any city council is a Republican or a Democrat or supported by Republicans or Democrats. Or do you think that this is inappropriate in a nonpartisan election? I’d like to hear your opinion on this. JW.
JW AUGUST (Managing Editor, KGTV 10News): My opinion is, this nonpartisan thing is like Oz behind the curtain. We all know who is which parties they’re with. It’s all a bunch of smoke and mirrors. It’s an argument that wastes my time and breath, I think.
PENNER: It – Really? I mean, do you not sense, however, that there was a reason for having these races nonpartisan in the first place?
AUGUST: Well, I mean, it was certainly a great idea but in reality it just doesn’t work that way. And they contribute one way or the other.
DAVY: I think there’s some utility…
DAVY: …in leaving them as nonpartisan races. I don’t – There is no particular reason that we should have a Republican mayor or a Democratic councilwoman in any particular sense. However, to think that this has not had a partisan impulse underneath of it forever, there’s been slate mailers around as long as I…
DAVY: …can remember, and that is a natural function of the parties trying to push candidates with their general philosophical fuel…
DAVY: …up to the fore, the places where candidates start becoming politicians for life. City councils and supervisors and mayors and whatnot go on to Assembly and State Senate seats and it’s kind of the natural pecking order. So I don’t find anything alarming about it.
AUGUST: Yeah, but it’s the way – I think it takes us away from the issues. It’s one of those side things we start debating about and that – it’s not the issue.
PENNER: It’s not the issue?
PENNER: Well, would nothing be achieved, let’s say, by putting party affiliation next to the name of candidates for city and county offices, just be up front about it. This person is a Republican, this person is a Libertarian, this person’s a Democrat.
AUGUST: I’m all for transparency, I’m all for telling it like it is. Why – Why, you know, and if somebody comes in the booth and they’re – they haven’t studied as much as we have, shouldn’t he have the opportunity to – and, plus, the candidates, don’t the candidates have the option of whether they’re going to list themselves as Democrat or Republican?
PENNER: But interestingly enough, there’s a growth in those people who consider themselves Independent of parties. They do not declare their party when they ask for a ballot, let’s say, or when they register. And with the growth of Independents, might we see that there’s going to be a tamping down of all this party affiliation, Barbara?
BRY: Well, I think there may – I don’t – I think the political parties are going to continue to spend a lot of money on behalf of issues and candidates that they support. The second piece is, yes, more people are unhappy with the current political parties and are registering as decline-to-state. And I think those are two things – two separate things that are happening and the political parties are wooing those decline-to-state voters in each election, you know, on each candidate and each issue.
PENNER: So I guess the question really is what’s the point of continuing this charade of nonpartisan races when political parties are so involved and so influential?
DAVY: Because by making them explicitly partisan you raise the partisanship of the office and the governments that are functioning. There isn’t any particular reason to make the Escondido City Council a Republican versus Democrat, albeit almost anyone who lives in Oceanside – or, Escondido and pays attention to city politics knows who is a Republican and who is a Democrat on that council.
PENNER: Let’s try to take one call before we end the segment. And I’m not sure I’m pronouncing your name correctly, is it Stephania in Coronado?
STEPHANIA (Caller, Coronado): Stephania, yes.
PENNER: Stepha-nee-a (phonetically), okay. Thank you for the right accent.
STEPHANIA: Yes, thank you.
PENNER: Go ahead, Stephania.
STEPHANIA: I’m just calling to make a quick comment, that I really think that things should remain as nonpartisan as possible in this sort of heightened partisan political world that we’re living in right now. I think it’s good to kind of keep things as low-toned as we possibly can and that’s sort of a need for moderation. And I – it’s not a good thing, I think, if political parties are starting to send slips out with our ballots.
PENNER: Kent. JW.
AUGUST: And I absolutely, 100% agree with that but the problem is just the tithing of something doesn’t change it. That is just dressing, window dressing. It has nothing to do with reality of what we’re dealing with, you know, the fragmentation of the voting blocs.
PENNER: Okay, I’m going to throw in another idea here. We have the possibility that the power of political parties be reduced, maybe going along with what Stephania would prefer, if Proposition 14 passes. It’s kind of like the stealth proposition…
PENNER: …which could make a huge difference…
PENNER: …in politics in California. What it would do would require that congressional statewide and legislative candidates in the state run in a single primary open to all registered voters and the top two voter-getters would meet in a runoff and it wouldn’t matter what their political parties are. Kent Davy, what kind of difference might this make?
DAVY: Well, I think it will destroy the Green Party, the Libertarian Party…
DAVY: …the American Party, any minor third party, or the possibility of the evolution of a third party to supplant either the Republican or the Democratic Party effectively dies.
BRY: Actually, one thing that was so interesting about this was who was opposed to it and who was in favor of it.
PENNER: It, meaning…?
BRY: Yeah, the proposition. So you’ve got – in favor of it, you’ve got Schwarzenegger, the California Chamber of Commerce, you’ve got Steve Westley, who’s a Democrat. Now against it, you basically have every political party.
BRY: So this is something the Republicans and the Democrats and the Green Party and the ACLU and Meg Whitman all agree on. It’s unbelievable.
AUGUST: Yeah, it’s a very…
PENNER: Final comment.
AUGUST: Well, I – This growth of Independent voters, this would go against the trend in this state where the Independent voters are increasing and they’re going to take away the opportunity for them to vote in the November elections.
PENNER: Our time is up. For you who are calling in and wanting to get in on this, please go to our website, KPBS.org/editors and register your comment. Thanks to all the editors who were with me today, Barbara Bry, Kent Davy, JW August, and to you, our callers and our listeners. This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner.