A perspective on partisanship

Filing for municipal elections is in full swing. Most municipal seats are non-partisan so political parties pretend not to be involved. But they sometimes are.

If you ask political operatives on either side about whether races should be partisan, you will get the same answer. Both parties like partisan elections when they’re winning. They hate them when they are losing.

The rationale for non-partisan seats is simple. There is no Democrat or Republican way to fix a pothole. But partisan policy does arise at this level.

How do you fix the pothole? Democrats may favor union work. Republicans may favor the lowest bid by an independent contractor.

Do you fix the pothole or build a school? Do you raise local taxes? Do you provide local business incentives? These can be partisan questions. A Democrat or Republican may offer different approaches to solving these problems.

The two major parties in theory have the same goal to better society. It’s the methods of reaching the goal that divides them. It is also why party affiliation does have value. It lowers the signal-to-noise ratio, which is a term used in science and engineering differentiating useful from irrelevant information.

As Robeson is only recently experiencing a balance between the two major political parties, this partisanship knowledge is a bit of a nebulous term for now. The county is still the last bastion of Blue Dog Democrats who are very conservative. They’d be viewed as Republicans anywhere else in the nation, sharing common values with Republicans.

So until Blue Dog Democrats finally feel like they can win as Republicans and are comfortable with the switch, party affiliation has less value than in other parts of the nation in differentiating how each will approach problem solving.

Legislative seats should clearly be partisan as these leaders make policy or laws that emerge from these partisan values. The idea of whether municipal elections should be partisan has less value but still arises. The bigger question is partisan judiciary seats.

Next year, voters will know the party affiliation of judges. Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the bill, which was overridden by the Legislature. Two Republican senators voted against the override. One of those two was Sen. Danny Britt and for good reason as politics has no place in a courtroom.

Democrats removed party labels in 1996. State GOP Chairman Robin Hayes said it was because they were losing these elections. But a different idea is at work in Robeson. There are some very conservative judges on the local bench who must now choose between siding with likeminded conservative Republicans or the more majority Democratic county party. Do you label yourself in a manner that reflects conservative values or the label more likely to get you elected? Labels can also be obstacles.

Sure affiliation may help in more balanced counties where a liberal judge may have previously slipped through a race in a conservative leaning county or vice versa. It’s why one size doesn’t fit all across the state.

Partisan races help the voter in one sense if they know little about the candidate. But in another sense it impairs their ability to choose the most qualified candidate if they rely totally on partisanship.

The joke that if Jesus ran on the Republican ticket and Satan on the Democrat ticket in Robeson, Satan would win by a landslide is less true today. But it’s repeated often for a reason when voters see nothing but party affiliation.

The sheriff’s race and even district attorney are two other examples where party affiliation has less relevance as well. Politics has no place in law enforcement though politics is embedded in certain administrative aspects.

The current Legislature is Republican. The largest counties with the most influential sheriff’s are Republican. So although these races shouldn’t be partisan either, the most powerful are currently Republican.

Whether affiliation provides more information to the voter depends on perspective.

Phillip Stephens is chairman of the Robeson County Republican Party.

Phillip Stephens is chairman of the Robeson County Republican Party.