Party Games in “Non-Partisan” Tiverton

Back in 2007, I argued against non-partisan elections in Tiverton. Those who disagreed took a very community-oriented view:

ARGUING AGAINST asking Tiverton voters whether they’d like to return to partisan elections after one cycle of nonpartisanism, Charter Review Commission member Frank “Richard” Joslin made two points that have the ring of Rhode Islandry: First, that residents who actually vote (or get involved) know who belongs to what party, and second, that Joslin’s fellow members of the Tiverton Democratic Committee are so ideologically diverse as to make party labels of negligible value. At the previous meeting, Commissioner Frank Marshall had asserted that everybody elected to local office is there simply to work hard and do right by the town.
Thus do Rhode Islanders like to believe about themselves. Everybody who cares knows, so inside information is by definition public, and everybody votes for the person, not the party, because the individuals are so independent and well intentioned.

That’s all well and good, and to large extent true. But party isn’t nothing; otherwise, there would cease to be a Tiverton Democratic Committee.
I raise the debate now because it came to light in the comments of my liveblog from Monday night’s Town Council meeting that the lone Republican in Tiverton’s delegation to the State House, Dan Gordon, was not informed that his peers would be briefing the local governing body. In fact, the same thing happened at the last regular School Committee meeting.
There are certainly legitimate reasons that the relevant clerks for the municipal government and the school department did not contact the only non-incumbent elected representative that Tiverton has sent to the General Assembly for this session. His contact information might not have been readily at hand or accurate. And the Democrat senators and representative might have merely forgotten to mention the meetings, even after the Republican’s absence at the School Committee meeting.
It is conspicuous, though, that Rep. Jay Edwards is a member of the Democrat committee… as is Town Clerk Nancy Mello… as are three of the five School Committee members… as is, I believe, the Democrat candidate whom Gordon defeated in the last election. As Joslin once said, everybody knows who belongs to what party, especially those who continue to operate as members thereof.

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13 years ago

Don’t worry. After about fifteen years the party organizations will disappear. In Woonsocket, both the Democrat and Republican city committees are practically non-existent after 50 years of non-partisan elections. They remained popular through the seventies (though endorsed candidates for Mayor often lost in the primary) and have been ineffective in influencing elections since then.
It doesn’t mean that we aren’t registered as Democrat or Republican, it’s just that it’s hard to know who is what because of the non-partisan election process. Without the fight for the endorsement, the party organization soon becomes irrelevant.
Despite that, we hope (and believe) that everyone works in the best interests of the entire city, not just their philosophical allies.
Unless that’s not what you want.

Justin Katz
13 years ago

We’ll see how things turn out, John. There really isn’t all that much of a Republican organization in Tiverton as it is.
I have no doubt that even partisans are working in the best interests of our town, but how they define that is bound to be colored by their own principles and priorities. I’m not persuaded that removing party labels will change that.

Mike Rego
Mike Rego
13 years ago

Quote – “the lone Republican in Tiverton’s delegation to the State House, Dan Gordon, was not informed that his peers would be briefing the local governing body.”
This is not the first time this happened. I co-managed Joe Amaral’s (R) first campaign for State Rep back in 1996. After Joe was elected, he did not get any correspondence from the Town Council at the time. We found out later that former State Sen. Bill Enos (D) wanted to keep Joe out of the loop and let the Democratic Town council members at the time know about it. It did not turn out well for the Town Council when they tried it. They looked petty and the local reporters at that time painted them that way.
Dan Gordon should ask Joe Amaral about it. He can fill him in on the details.
Mike Rego, Rehoboth (formerly from Tiverton)

Scott Bill Hirst
Scott Bill Hirst
13 years ago

I favor partisan elections albeit in Rhode Island generally work against Republicans perhaps.
Non partisan elections in many cases are so only in a technical sense. Political committees make their preference known in non partisan races, and candidates often make known their political affilation.
I do think a number of Rhode Islanders with party loyalty will NOT vote for a person other than their own party. However in Rhode Island, That type of thinking helps Democrats more than Republicans.
Non partisan elections do help those government employees who cannot run in a partisan election. Another benefit is many independent voters will not “declare” themselves, and may be willing to vote in a non partisan primary. Also candidates can get votes from ‘weak” party members who are registered with a party but could not vote for them in a non partisan primary.
Woonsocket, a Democratic bastion, elected Leo Fontaine, former RI GOP Chair, as Mayor in a non partisan election as well as to the city council in that city. I realize other Republicans have been elected and currently elected to office in Woonsocket. Fontaine is current Woonsocket Mayor.

Scott Bill Hirst
Scott Bill Hirst
13 years ago

Hi again,
A clarification. In the part about weak partisan voters, they could vote for members of the other party they could not otherwise, if the primary was partisan and they were registered with a party other than candidate(s) they wished to vote for. That a benefit of non partisan elections.

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