The Non-Partisan Route to Homopartisanism

For some reason, it didn’t register when last I filled out a Tiverton ballot (for the first time) that most of the town’s key offices are “non-partisan.” That doesn’t necessarily mean that the representatives aren’t affiliated with a party — either officially or ideologically. It just means that voters and taxpayers have to take a very keen interest in the partisan breakdown in order to figure it out.
I became interested when I discovered that my potential hero on the Tiverton Town Council, Hannibal Costa, is in fact a Democrat. After some online research of prior listings, political donations, and news articles, which I hope to supplement with a more thorough investigation in the future, I’ve put together the following overview of some key bodies/offices:

  • Town Council:
    • Louise Durfee (president): Democrat
    • Joanne Arruda: Democrat
    • Donald Bollin: Democrat
    • Hannibal Costa: Democrat
    • Paul Carroll: Democrat
    • John Edwards: [don’t know]
    • Brian Medeiros: [don’t know]
  • Town Administrator:
    • Glenn Steckmann: [don’ know]
  • School Committee:
    • Denise deMedeiros (chairwoman): Independent
    • Michael Burk (vice-chairman): Democrat [not confirmed, but confident]
    • Sally Black: Democrat
    • Jan Bergandy: [don’t know]
    • Leonard Wright: Democrat (Democratic Committee Vice Chair)

The two “don’t knows” on the town council could go either way, as could the town administrator. The two “don’t knows” on the school committee, I’d be comfortable placing tentatively in the Democrat column on the basis of their both being professors, as I understand. The point is that this “non-partisanship” seems peculiarly likely to result in an overwhelming number of Democrats.
If we put aside the lefty quip that Democrats support the policies that most people want, and if we acknowledge, but move on from, the observation that there are almost three times as many registered Democrats as registered Republicans in Tiverton (although unaffiliated voters make up 55% of the electorate), there’s a ready explanation for this blind lopsidedness: Given an apathetic citizenry, town positions are won mainly on the strength of name recognition, and even if candidates are not advertised as belonging to a particular party, those party organizations can still help (and pay) to build just that. Moreover, on a list of mainly unknowns, this large advantage to the state’s vastly dominant party is exacerbated by the fact that citizens can’t cast their votes based on the likelihood that party affiliation means a given candidate is closer to their views.
I don’t know how many towns in Rhode Island are similar to Tiverton in this proud, but counterproductive, insistence on erasing partisan labels. It would seem a natural issue over which the state GOP could make some hay, while simultaneously expanding awareness that the monolithic party system is corrosive.

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John WD
John W
16 years ago

An interesting observation. You may be surprised to learn that 4 of 7 City Coucil members in Woonsocket are registered Republicans. Republicans have held the majority on the Woonsocket City Council for at least ten years now.
The local election is non-partisan.

Scott Bill Hirst
Scott Bill Hirst
16 years ago

Non partisan elections frequently are only that in name only.
Narragansett is a fine example.Party committees endorse candidates and spend money on advertising.
I am opposed to non partisan elections at least certainly for the most part philosophically.One advantage however would be in areas heavily Democratic in Rhode Island the Republicans would have a chance to be elected such as Woonsocket defintely not a GOP bastion.
However in towns with non partisan elections party affilations are used such as Narragansett and I recall also in Woonsocket?I believe the Mayor of Woonsocket is technically elected as non partisan?
Wasn’t at one time Hannibal Costa a Republican?

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