Friday, November 18, 2005

Post Special Election View: All Elections are Partisan

When I was in a Catholic Seminary, I remember our professors challenging our ability to think deeper about the subject matter. They did this largely by making distinctions using Latin expressions, many of which are used in our English language today.

My most vivid memory of those distinctions was in the use of the words de jure and de facto. De jure referred to the literal meaning while de facto referred to the reality.

In applying this to so-called non-partisan elections, the de facto reality is that there is no such thing as non-partisan elections. Republican and Democratic political clubs exist to elect party members to both partisan and non-partisan offices. As the former Speaker of Congress, Tip O’Neal (D-Massachusetts) said, “All politics are local,” and Democrats follow the dictum, “Think globally, act locally.”

There are many types of local elections across the country that are referred to as non-partisan. These include city councils, water boards, boards of supervisors and school boards to name a few. For political parties, these local offices serve in a fashion like farm clubs do for baseball. Parties move their candidates up. Thus, local Republican Don Knabe went from Cerritos City Council to run for the California State Senate (which he lost) and then ran and won a spot on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Democrat Rudy Bermudez went from the Norwalk-La Mirada School Board to the Norwalk City Council to the California State Assembly. Today he is running for the California Senate.

Elected officials, once in office, have far reaching influence and power because they appoint individuals to national, state, regional, city and county boards, commissions and special districts. In addition, their staffs are mostly made up of people from their own political party.

As you can see, there is a huge ripple effect created when locally elected Republican office holder shave the power to appoint like-minded, doctrinaire right-wingers to serve so many public functions. Congressman Tom Delay (R-Texas) has made no secret that he wants Republicans elected in all the so-called non-partisan offices.

By way of example, the staff and appointees of Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Gloria Molina and Yvonne B. Burke are made up of mostly Democrats. I would venture to say that the staff and appointees of Supervisor Don Knabe are more than 90% Republican, the most notable exception being the appointment of Alex Beanum, the former Mayor of Cerritos.

An elected public official has an awesome responsibility in forming public policy and working for the common good, not just the special interests. People belong to a political party because they see their party’s core beliefs as better bringing about the common good. In that sense, candidates from the other party are political opponents. Political opponents can be friends on a personal basis. However, to cross party lines because of friendship is, in my opinion, to sell out one’s personal beliefs as to which party best serves the common good.

Saying over and over that an election is “non-partisan” does not de facto make it true. If you are a Democratic public official in a non-partisan office (read: could it be you?) it’s not valid to say that “so-and-so” of the opposite party supported me and therefore I must support them even though we are adversaries when it comes to political beliefs.

Remember, de facto, there is no such thing as a non-partisan race.

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