Thursday, July 02, 2009

Non-Partisan Politics in Annapolis

Forget bi-partisanship, the new politics of Annapolis, it seems, is non-partisanship! The slogan is: "There is no place in municipal government for partisan politics." Chris Fox, whom I'll credit with devising or least first promoting this novel approach to politics, is running as an Independent candidate for Mayor of Annapolis.

In an article for the Eye On Annapolis blog, Fox assured us that we had "valid and respectable" reasons for being Democrats and Republicans. But that our positions regarding taxes and spending, size and role of government and healthcare policies, Fox says, "are state and federal issues and have NO PLACE in our local municipality!"

Intrigued as I am by novel approaches to politics, I decided to try and draw Mr. Fox out on a few points. Politics is, after all, a base or instinctual trait exhibited by most species of primate in the way they socialize and behave in groups. The human species, overwhelmed as it is by its cavernous cranium, stuffed with grey matter, has turned politics into an art and even a science. How are we to deny our natural instincts in this regard?
"So partisanship has a place in state and national affairs, but when we serve on the City Council or as Mayor, we must shed our party affiliation.... What do we use as a guide? If not ideology, then what? Perhaps an eye for the bottom line? Moral values? Whose morals? Personal interests and patronage are probably the only true bipartisan approaches to governance."
Fox demurred when I asked him, for the record, where he stood on state and national issues, you know, where partisanship is allowed. I didn't think much more about it until the Thomann affair caused me to do some research on a few partisans. Well it turns out the Greg Stiverson, Ward 6 candidate for City Council, is squarely in the Fox camp when it comes to partisan politics in Annapolis:
"Fundamentally, I believe Annapolis needs nonpartisan elections. Every other city in Maryland, with the exception of Frederick and Baltimore, has nonpartisan municipal elections. State and national politics have virtually nothing to do with issues of local concern."
There is something about being labeled with an 'R' or a 'D' that Stiverson finds objectionable, though he'll tell you he has been a proud Republican for 41 years. But if elected, his number one priority will be to get the Council to approve nonpartisan city elections. I am not sure what that is. Can someone tell me what a nonpartisan city election is?

What is the real goal? I think it is to remove ideology from municipal governance, not party affiliation. But I don't think you can separate humans from their ideology merely by banning the 'R's and the 'D's from election ballots. And I don't think Fox and Stiverson are naive enough to think such a thing is possible. So what would "nonpartisan elections" give us? The next best thing, of course: an excuse for not taking a stand, cover for bending to the prevailing winds of political pressure and influence, without having to answer to this party or that.

So they can have "pride" in their party's ideology, privately, within backslapping range, you know, when raising money and getting key endorsements is important. I guess the only things that count in nonpartisan elections is money and power. At least in regular elections, no one is trying to hide behind some false front of purity in governance, selfless public servitude. In partisan elections, everyone knows what they are getting themselves into when they vote and they have a right to hold elected leaders to account when they buck the party line.


Eye On Annapolis said...

I personally agree that non-partisan is probably the way to go.

We have people crossing party lines in November all the time. I think that as we mature as a nation, people are voting for the best candidate--or possibly the better of the worst.

At the municipal level, Chris is right, may partisan issues are limited to the State and Federal level. Look at the Market House, the Sidewalk Tax, the parking rates--both sides of the aisle have come together on these issues.

This is not uncommon.

The issue for me is the primary. As a registered R or D we are limited to the candidates we can choose. When I go to vote in the primary, my selection for Mayor will be Dave Cordle, by default (at this time since he seems to be the only candidate running on the R ticket...despite the illusion of Frank Flyntz.

But what if I feel the BEST candidate for the job is a D? I may cross party lines to vote for the best.

But I can only cross those lines at a general election; and by that time, the primary will have likely eliminated who I feel is the most qualified.

I think it is a good move to look toward shifting the process. I think that right now the Ds and the Rs have created such a local divide that it may just be the year for an Independent candidate to win it all.

Now Chris does need to get his campaign in gear--Cohen, McFall, Pierre are way outcampaigning him at this point.

PS--thanks for the plug!

Mike Netherland said...

Eye (may I call you Eye?),
Chris is not right. What he and others avoid is the fact that you cannot legislate away human instinct. You can make it a crime to steal from or assault your fellow man, but you cannot prevent it from happening. Man will always covet his neighbors' possessions and become violent in response to certain situations.

I am NOT saying these things shouldn't be punishable crimes, only that making them so does nothing to hinder the possibility of their occurence. In fact, the laws against these acts may even endanger us by presenting a false sense of security.

And so an ordinance banning partisanship will do nothing to hinder partisanship. There would be the cosmetic changes, but there will always be the ugly partisan beneath the make up.

I'd much rather be open about it if for no other reason than becasue it is silly for grown-ups to play "let's pretend."

As far as a closed Primaries go, Eye, again, you can decree that they be open to all parties. But where does it get you? The winner of an open primary can't go to the General election with a mandate from his or her party. You might as well just do away with the Primary process all together. The open primary is the most useless political idea yet (followed closely by having a candidate forum to "celebrate" the fact that the link to a local blog was clicked on 100,000 times).