Wednesday, August 4, 2021
Aug. 4, 2021

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In Our View: Partisanship on Clark County ballot this fall

The Columbian
Published:

Voters in the November general election will weigh in on several questions about the makeup of Clark County government. The most interesting of these will surround the nature of partisanship.

All of this is the continuation of a process that began in 2014. Then, Clark County voters approved a charter with 53 percent of the vote, reconfiguring the county government.

As dictated by the charter, 15 people were elected to a review committee last year to offer suggestions for how to tweak and improve the functions of that government. Last week, the Clark County Charter Review Commission completed its work, sending its recommendations to voters.

“These amendment proposals are the result of an extensive and intensive amount of work … as well as a substantial amount of input from the community,” commission co-chairs Kim Harless and Chuck Green said in a statement.

Delving into the details of the proposals will take some time.

One would change the county council from four districts to five. Currently, four councilors are elected by district, and a council chair is elected in a countywide vote. The proposal would create five districts, leaving the council at five members with the chair chosen by those members.

Other amendments include promoting ethics in county government, promoting diversity and equity, and adjusting the timetable for charter reviews. All warrant a closer look, but for now we are intrigued by two measures regarding partisanship.

One resolution would make county council positions nonpartisan, with candidates not declaring a party preference. (The current council has four Republicans — including Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien — and one Democrat.) Another proposal would turn elected executive positions — assessor, auditor, clerk, prosecuting attorney, sheriff and treasurer — into nonpartisan races.

The Columbian’s Editorial Board will offer recommendations to voters prior to the general election, but the idea of nonpartisanship provokes good arguments on both sides. After all, one frequent question regarding local politics is, “Why are city governments nonpartisan but the county council is Republicans and Democrats?”

The National League of Cities, an advocacy group representing municipalities, writes that proponents of nonpartisan elections say “parties are irrelevant to providing services” and cooperation between elected officials with different philosophies is more likely. Proponents of partisan elections say “the absence of party labels confuses voters” and “nonpartisanship tends to produce elected officials more representative of the upper socioeconomic strata than of the general populace.”

The league also reports that of the country’s 30 largest cities, only eight have partisan elections for their government. (Portland’s city council is nonpartisan.)

Clark County, of course, is not a city; nor is it the hub of a major metropolis. But the same arguments will apply to both the county council and executive positions.

Partisanship has been an issue for American politics since the founding of the nation. John Adams said, “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties. … This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”

Primary elections are underway in Clark County, with ballots due by Aug. 3. But once voters make an informed choice in those races, attention will turn to the November general election. And that will include the intriguing question about partisanship in elections at the county level.

Editor’s note: The date of the primary election is Aug. 3. It has previously been misstated. 

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