Party, Shmarty, Everybody Works Hard

During a brief break, some of my fellow attendees of the Tiverton Charter Review Commission meeting engaged me in discussion, with two interesting points made:

  • A Republican suggested that running as such probably costs a candidate votes.
  • A Planning Board member suggested that, in Tiverton (at least), party doesn’t really matter, because anybody elected to office is there to work hard and do right by the town.

I don’t doubt that both of these suggestions are accurate, but they strike me as beside the point. Regarding the first, it isn’t necessarily a permanent state of affairs that citizens are thoughtlessly wooed to the Democrats by “R”-labeled bogeymen. With the monopartisanism of the state being such a problem, making party ostensibly irrelevant to local governance hardly helps. The people of Rhode Island have an interest in explicitly strengthening the opposition party. Two benefits of doing so (both of which may prove to be of great importance in the state’s near future) are that it:

  • Gives a clear alternative via which dissatisfied citizens can express that dissatisfaction
  • Can create an atmosphere of constructive contention.

The point that people involved in municipal government are simply there to do right by the town was actually made subsequently by commission member Frank Marshall as part of his successful motion to strike the matter from the commission’s list of items to consider. I would (and will) argue that even universally good intentions among town governmentals is immaterial to the question of whether the political parties to which they belong ought to be publicly known.
School Committee member Leonard Wright is the Democratic Committee Vice Chair (for Tiverton, I gather). Is he governing less as a Democrat because the school committee is “nonpartisan”? Town Council President Louise Durfee has run for governor as a Democrat, has been appointed to the DEM, and contributes to Democrat candidates for higher office. In what way is she nonpartisan?
Despite the apparent implication of arguments for nonpartisan town government, being openly affiliated with a particular party is not untoward. “Doing right by the town” doesn’t involve clear and objectively verifiable decisions, and a candidate’s party affiliation will tell citizens something about what his or her approach to making them will be.
Moreover, the civic participation of townies is not disconnected from the usual party activity just because they white-out their affiliation. Somebody at tonight’s meeting suggested that nonpartisan elections mean it’s up to the individual candidates to get out among the people and make their cases. But the reality is that the majority of voters (let alone the majority of citizens) barely recognize the names on the ballot, let alone the views of the folks who bear those names. To the extent that the candidates are able to get their names and messages out there, it is through the usual political methods and organs, which are steeped in partisan politics.
With all of the care and concern that elected and appointed members of the Tiverton government devote to observing open meetings laws, avoiding quorums for non-meeting events, and so on, why ought they hide their allegiances? I’ll confess to the hair-trigger on my suspicions, but when people in government (politicians all, ultimately), throw a blanket over a particular appurtenance, I can’t help but fear that it is actually the behavior out of sight beneath it that is untoward.
I notice that, of the nine members of the commission, four are members of the Tiverton Democratic Town Committee. And unless I’m mistaken, Deborah Pallasch was the only commission member, of the seven there, to vote against removing the nonpartisanism question from the working document.

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