Much has been made of the fact that gubernatorial candidate Foster Friess suggested he may have lost the election because of all the Democrats who switched parties for the primary and cast more moderate votes. We’re not convinced this was as big a deal as he may think, considering the low numbers we’re talking about, but it does throw up an important question: can we do anything about party hopping – and should we?
We did a little digging, as you may have noticed in last week’s issue, and found that no more local Democrats switched to the Republican Party for this primary than they did during the last midterms. Fewer made the jump, actually.
But it’s not a surprise that so many Democrats across the state decide to masquerade for a day. We all know why they do it: to have a say in the local races that appear on the ballot.
Should they have to do this? There are enormous gaps on the ballots presented to Democrats in Crook County simply because we are one of the reddest places in the nation. There are very few Democratic candidates running at the county level.
Sticking with the Democratic ballot means losing your chance to decide who will be issuing your vehicle plates for the next four years, choosing which roads need maintenance or setting the taxes on your properties – the things that matter in everyday life.
In more purple areas, there is an authentic choice between the two parties when it comes to the general election. Both sides have a candidate and everyone has the opportunity to balance their merits.
But that’s not so in Crook County. By the time we reach the general, there’s not a single county-level seat that has genuinely been in contention during the last few elections. The real choice has already been made.
So why is it that our municipal governments are nonpartisan, but our county officials must register under their party affiliation? Is there a reason that our county officials need to be Republicans or Democrats, other than our natural inclination to trust people who share our affiliation?
At both the city and county level, our elected officials are there to serve every member of the community equally. There is little difference in the effect that these positions have on our local political climate, or the effect they can have on state matters, so why are we treating them differently?
Meanwhile, does party color really affect whether they do the job more efficiently? Does our county coroner only investigate the death of pro-life citizens? Does the assessor ignore the left hand side of every building? Will the county clerk refuse to acknowledge you are married unless you wear a ring on your right hand?
We jest, but you can see where we’re coming from. We would argue there is little reason for county seats to be partisan if city seats are not, though we’re aware that changing the status quo would be an uphill struggle.
And because we’re not likely to see change, it’s a certainty that we’ll always see Democratic members of our community take advantage of their statutorily protected right to hop across the aisle during the primary elections. It’s an imperfect solution, but it works.
If, as a state, we are concerned that this phenomenon is changing the outcome of gubernatorial races, the only solution we can see is to change those county-level seats to make them nonpartisan. A full ballot, no matter your party membership, would mean the grass was just as green on both sides of the fence.
If this option is untenable, should we begrudge those few blues in this county who want to change parties the freedom to do so, if it means they can make their voices heard in races where, when it comes to actually doing the job, party platforms are less of a concern? Of course not.