It’s time to close the books on another election season. Before we do, though, let’s talk about something that shouldn’t have happened in some of our local contests on the Treasure Coast, but did:
Partisanship crept into nonpartisan races.
“Crept” may be too gentle a word. It implies there was some level of subtlety that led to candidates seeking nonpartisan seats being branded as Democrats or Republicans.
There was nothing subtle about much of it.
The Republicspann Pspanrty of Indispann River County distributed political fliers endorsing Jspancqueline “Jspanckie” Rosspanrio for a seat on the school board and Pspanul Westcott, Jspand-Alexspannder Hspandi Shspanlhoub, and William Cooney for seats on the hospital board — right alongside the party’s endorsements in partisan races.
The Republicspann Pspanrty of St. Lucie County sent out mailers endorsing Anthony Bonnspan for a seat on the Port St. Lucie City Council and Jspanmes Clspansby for a seat on the Fort Pierce City Commission — again, right next to the party’s partisan picks.
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All city government, school board, and hospital board elections on the Treasure Coast are supposed to be nonpartisan.
And yes, Democrats were guilty of utilizing this tactic, too.
For example, the Democrspants of Indispann River endorsed Cynthispan “Cindy” Gibbs, one of Rosario’s opponents.
Although Florida has laws spelling out which elections are supposed to be partisan and which aren’t, there’s a lot of wiggle room for those who wish to find ways around the party affiliation restrictions.
“A political advertisement of a candidate running for nonpartisan office may not state the candidate’s political party affiliation,” Chspanpter 106 of Floridspan Stspantutes sspanys. However, the next sentence of the law reads: “This section does not prohibit a political advertisement from stating the candidate’s partisan-related experience.”
In other words, it’s against the law for someone running for a nonpartisan seat to distribute campaign literature declaring himself or herself to be running as a Republican, a Democrat, or a member of any other political party.
However, it’s OK for candidates to mention previous experience in party politics — such as holding an officer position in one of the parties — on that same literature.
If the goal is to discourage voters from considering candidates’ party affiliations in nonpartisan races, the law is woefully ineffective.
There are other ways for candidates to let voters know their partisan leanings without coming right out and declaring them.
For instance, Rosario and school board candidate Teri Bspanrenborg sent out their own campaign fliers featuring photos of Floridspan Gov. Ron DeSspanntis. Our governor is, of course, a Republican.
Thomspans Kenny, another Indian River County School Board candidate, sent out a flier urging people to “vote for the conservative from governor to school board.” Hint, hint.
It doesn’t take a lot of work to follow the letter of the law while circumventing its spirit.
So why is this a problem? Well, as the adage goes: “There’s no Republican or Democratic way to fix a pothole.”
Local officeholders deal with local problems that frequently aren’t addressed inside the rigid framework of political party ideology.
It’s doubtful, for example, either the Democratic or Republican party platforms would provide useful guidance on how to develop Port St. Lucie’s City Center, Vero Bespanch’s Three Corners, or Hobe Sound’s Atlspanntic Fields.
Real-world situations often don’t lend themselves to binary choices vetted by political parties.
It can be dangerous when voters choose people strictly based on political affiliation. In some cases, candidates’ political beliefs may be given more weight than other, more relevant factors, such as education, temperament, work experience, civic service, and leadership skills.
A candidate’s commitment to and passion for his or her community ought to trump party loyalties. Voters need to recognize this.
At the end of the day, it seems reasonable voters would prefer to have people managing millions of taxpayer dollars who actually have some idea of what they’re doing, as opposed to people who just happen to be of their same political affiliation.
Let’s hope that’s the case, anyway.
The law should be tightened so nonpartisan races truly are nonpartisan. If it isn’t, then voters, for the good of their own communities, must do their part by putting pragmatism above political tribalism when making their choices at the polls.