Endorsements are an important part of running for office, but local races – like those for city council, mayor, and county commissioner in most places, (including Duluth/St. Louis County) are supposed to remain non-partisan.
The National League of Cities explains that proponents for non-partisan local elections feel political parties are irrelevant to providing services and cooperation between elected officials belonging to different parties is more likely. Those that are for partisan local elections claim reasons that overwhelmingly suggest voters are stupid – for example, “voters will be confused” without the (D) or (R) next to a candidate’s name, voters will “turn to whatever cue is available…often the ethnicity of a candidate’s name”, or that non-partisan elections “tend to produce elected officials more representative of the upper socioeconomic strata” including who shows up at the polls because there is no one to bring lower-class citizens to the polls on election day.
To be clear, the only endorsement not allowed in a non-partisan race is that of a political party. Unions, organizations, businesses, and individuals can all openly endorse candidates; promote them to their groups, customers, friends, and family – and even bring those friends and family to the polls. Without the D or R, anyone who chooses to vote should also choose to educate themselves on the candidates on the ballot – all of which have some social media or website sharing their vision for their city/county. Claiming a voter would be so lost in the voting booth without the D or R that they might give their vote to someone with a name they like is no worse than that voter choosing someone because they have a D or R after their name without knowing anything else about that person.
Despite our local non-partisan races, political party endorsements have become commonplace in Duluth over the past decade disrupting the vision of electing the best managers of our city and county services.
Local government is about providing basic services for its citizens. Is there a Democratic vs. Republican way to provide water to residents? How do the different parties feel about potholes?
Party politics seeping into our local government has made our government less efficient. How much time has been wasted talking about and taking “symbolic votes”, like those on refugee resettlements, the word “chief”, and Polymet? Meanwhile, city-funded facilities like the Zoo, Spirit Mountain, Great Lakes Aquarium, the DECC, and Lester/Enger Golf Courses are running in the red, costing taxpayers thousands upon thousands of dollars each year.
“Why”, you ask? Because the wrong people were elected to do the job. They were endorsed by a political party and the voters said: “By Golly, if my party thinks this gal should be mayor or that guy should be a county commissioner, then they’ve got my vote” without spending a moment learning that the mayoral candidate has no private sector experience or the county commissioner has some major conflicts of interest.
Despite the fact that party politics play no role in the function or delivery city/county services, the parties’ weasel into these races to groom candidates that will likely move up the political ladder and eventually run for a state or national office. In the process, they push party politics into city/county government as much as possible making sure local communities become as divided as the nation.
It’s not all the major parties fault our locally elected candidates have been failing for years. Major party endorsements have not only made voters lazy, but they’ve made them angry – the point where even if an endorsed candidate’s opponent remains non-partisan they will refuse to consider them. These endorsements immediately create an “Us vs. Them” element in the race.
Duluth can do better than it is – but only if our local races can be truly non-partisan. Let the candidates résumé speak for them – not their party affiliation. Discourage candidates from affiliating with a party at the local level and show your approval by voting for the candidate that has the right skills and knowledge to really improve our region.