America is deeply divided country when it comes to national and state level political ideals. It’s so bad that even some county officials in Texas use their positions as political launch pads and bully pulpits for national political gamesmanship. But down at the local level, partisan politics is less visible–or at least it is supposed to be.
In at least 100 of the largest cities across the country, and countless smaller municipalities, local elections for offices such as mayor and city council member are nonpartisan.
Candidates in these municipalities do not run under party labels or even appear on party primary ballots. Local level elections often have a lower barrier to entry than do County, State or Federal elections which are largely controlled by the two major parties.
The party system is so deeply engrained at the state and local level that it might seem puzzling and even frustrating that so many municipalities run nonpartisan elections. Why is it that nonpartisanship is the norm at the local level but the near obvious governing rule higher up the ballot?
As evident in places such as Austin and Washington, D.C. partisan politics often creates friction, resulting in deadlocks. At the local level, that would be fatal to a community. Municipal officials must work together and be able to compromise on nearly every single issue brought before their respective bodies.
Members of different parties might end up facing off with each other while members of the same party might end up banding together over a policy issue, ordinance or local issue. This could easily result in intraparty factions emerging. At the local level, this spells disaster.
That said, in cities such as New York, Chicago and Atlanta where municipal races are heavily partisan, they tend to use the local arena as a proving ground for wider policies. Groups that hope to influence state or national party interests may end up recruiting candidates to run for office at the municipal level or propose local ballot initiatives. If your municipality functions off of party lines, you could find yourself with failing infrastructure, a bad economy and strange local ordinances that seem to not make any sense to your local community.
At the federal and state level, the 2016 elections were odd to say the least. Republicans emerged with control of both branches of federal government. They handily carries trifectas in 25 states and gained or retained control of at least branch of elected government in another 19 states.
The partisan picture at the local level is far different. At the end of 2017, 63 mayors of the top 100 municipalities across the country were democrats.
Cities under democrat control clashed with republican state and federal governments over issues such as marijuana legalization and immigration. Because of this partisan clashing, these cities struggled with local funding issues, economic development and other vital functions necessary for municipal governments to properly function for the good of all citizens.
When questioning leaders for local government seats, a voter must be keen and actually pay attention to what candidates say. One might be an accomplished business leader with great ideas and plenty of experience, another might be a farmer who is well aware of the concept of unity and pride, while another might have graduated with prestigious honors and accolades yet have no common sense or sense of community pride.
In the end, these local leaders in nonpartisan municipalities care more about you and your hometown than they do about advancing a national party agenda. They want to serve YOU, not political bosses out of state. Because they have accepted the burden of local community service for you, you owe it to them to at least listen and look beyond national politics. If a candidate or a group brings up their party affiliation, keep that in your back pocket and remember it, because they likely subscribe to a bigger philosophical picture that will put your home, your values and your community at grave risk of failure.