Is the party over for Eagle County?
October 6, 2006
EAGLE ” Perhaps the most significant change under home rule government would be the addition of two more commissioners representing Eagle County’s constituents.
But John Horan-Kates, a member of the Home Rule Charter Commission, said it was another aspect of home rule that appealed to him above all ” nonpartisan county races.
“In local politics, the party affiliations are both not particularly valuable and potentially counterproductive,” said Horan-Kates, an Edwards resident.
Voters will decide Nov. 7 if the county should adopt the home-rule charter, which would overhaul county government. Eagle County stretches from Vail to the Roaring Fork Valley, where it takes in El Jebel and part of Basalt.
Horan-Kates and other supporters of home rule say removing the D or R next to candidates’ names on the ballot will alleviate the acrimony they say partisanship brings to local politics. They also say partisan labels are largely irrelevant in local races.
“I would rather draw conclusions about what a guy or gal stands for by knowing that person rather than relying on a broad-based label that may or may not be accurate,” Horan-Kates said.
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The system would put the burden on voters to research a candidate, rather than use the crutch of voting for a certain party, Horan-Kates said.
But local political party leaders oppose the change. At its assembly earlier this year, the Eagle County Democratic Party voted to oppose the removal of affiliations under home rule.
Clashes in the county over the last few years have undeservedly given parties a bad name, said Debbie Marquez, an Edwards resident and former chair of the local Democrats.
“I think that has hurt the parties,” Marquez said. “But it’s not the parties, it’s the people.”
Party affiliation is an important indicator of a candidate’s beliefs regarding locally relevant issues such as the environment, development and education, Marquez said.
“At least you know if you see a D by the name you know there are some values behind that,” she said.
Though not printed on the ballot, party politics will still exist in local races, Marquez said. But two candidates from the same party would be able to advance to the general election, and that would be problematic, Marquez said.
New New Wallace, co-chair of the local Democrats, said she would prefer that parties remain in the county races, but she said candidates’ affiliations will be evident, even if they aren’t on the ballot. The local party won’t be weakened by the removal of partisan races, she said.
Wallace, who supports home rule as a whole, said she doesn’t think the affiliation facet of home rule is reason enough alone to vote against it.
The removal of party affiliations isn’t mandatory under home rule governments but the commission unanimously decided to include it to their charter, said Don Cohen, chairman of the Home Rule Charter Commission.
There are more unaffiliated voters than there are Democrats or Republicans in Eagle County, Cohen said.
“The largest block of voters in this county is unaffilliated voters,” he said.
The potential to attract better candidates for office is a key benefit of having nonpartisan candidates, Cohen said.
Candidates simply have to get enough signatures to get on the ballot, and then run within their district in the primary. The top two finishers go to the general election, which would be a countywide election.
Under the party system, candidates must go though a caucus, a party assembly and perhaps a countywide primary before reaching the general election.
Nonpartisan elections also remove the possibility of a three-way general election race. The winner of the race would have a majority of votes ” something that many times doesn’t happen with three-way races.
“I think that is probably one of the very overlooked benefits of what we’re proposing here,” Cohen said.
Political party platforms are often irrelevant to the decisions commissioners make, Cohen said.
“How does that comes in play when you approve a liquor license?” he said.