The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

22 March 2005

How nonpartisan are they?

I have been known to kvetch about partisan influence on ostensibly-nonpartisan elections before, so this Seattle Times editorial by James Vesely caught my eye:

One way to get partisan politics out of public office is to force more candidates to run without party label.

The idea of nonpartisan elections makes more and more sense, especially in the public-works areas of government — those places where management of the office is more important than setting policy. There's not much ideology that can or should be attached to, say, the state treasurer, so why only elect Democrats or Republicans? That was state Treasurer Mike Murphy's idea — he offered to allow the Legislature to make the office nonpartisan, like electing an accountant or the state's best money manager regardless of party. Murphy, a proud Democrat, understands that he can be an effective steward of the state's purse without having to show his party card. The Legislature turned him down.

On the other hand, I don't think we've suffered greatly in Oklahoma by having the Treasurer elected by statewide vote: we were served well by Robert Butkin, a Democrat, and less well, I think, by his Republican predecessor, but the performance of neither, I believe, was affected by his party label.

And Jim Miller tosses in an angle I hadn't considered:

I am not wholly opposed to nonpartisan elections. They often make sense when the electorates are small. But they have one great disadvantage, well known to most political scientists, and unknown to almost all editors (or perhaps ignored by them). When electorates are large, political parties counterbalance the influence of the prominent — such as newspaper editors — with numbers. Partisan elections shift decisions toward majorities, and away from elites.

Nonpartisan elections especially increase the influence of newspapers, as Mr. Vesely must know. So when he argues that more elections should be nonpartisan, he is saying that the unelected editors at the Seattle Times should have even more influence. I can see why he would find that idea agreeable; I can't see why voters should grant him his wish.

Which leads me to the most obvious question: How much influence does the not-quite-post-Gaylord Oklahoman really have these days?

Posted at 6:25 AM to Political Science Fiction