By STEVE SOUTHWELL
In a Facebook thread, a reader told us they wanted us to provide more information about local candidates’ political party affiliation in the school board and city council elections. We generally do not.
These are hyper–polarized times that we live in. The two-party system that is responsible for the dysfunctional messes in Washington D.C. and Austin has us well–trained to view politicians with suspicion until we can verify if they’re in our ideological tribe or not.
Our choices on state and federal ballots tend toward the left or the right, with the vast center choosing the lesser of two evils.
At those levels, when power shifts, the winning party rapidly tries to undo everything they can from the other side. Policy is based more on dogma than observable facts.
Victory for one side means defeating the other side. It’s a dirty knife fight where the real losers are the people.
This is my 11th year covering Lewisville local elections. Before I started, I was a partisan who viewed everything through that lens, just as I had been trained to do. I viewed the other side as an enemy to be defeated.
I just didn’t know what it was we were trying to win at. I didn’t really know how the city government worked.
I came on a little strong in those early years and let my view of how a person leans in our partisan elections affect how I thought of them. It wasn’t until I put in time and got to know the people involved that I came to understand why a person’s partisan views shouldn’t matter much with local elections.
Most of the issues that divide us so forcefully at the state and national levels have very little to do with the business of local governance.
What I learned instead was that it wasn’t so much whether a person is left or right that made them fit for the job of a city council member or a school board trustee.
Experience, knowledge, ideas and temperament seem to be the keys to effective governance at the local level. The only party correlation I’ve seen is that hyper–partisanship by a candidate or elected official at the local level makes them ineffective.
Viewing every issue through the partisan lens is what makes for poor government.
We’ve had Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians as far as I know. And I’ve gotten to know them.
Here’s what I’ve seen: They all want safe neighborhoods and good streets and sidewalks. They all want good schools. They all want a healthy, cohesive community and a place that we are proud to call home.
More practically, they all face the same limitations in how they carry out our local business.
Balanced budgets are required each year by state law.
All tax–supported long-term debt must be voter-approved. Taxation methods are dictated by state laws.
Cities and schools have strict limits on how much they can tax. School districts especially have tight limits.
As for social issues, cities do not have much power to dictate change for citizens within their boundaries. They mostly just quietly try to do the right things by their own employees. Like most employers, cities compete for workers in the marketplace, and that market can sometimes demand what they do.
The state reserves most of the ability to regulate the types of things that partisans fight over. If you don’t believe that, just try passing an ordinance that would affect any industry that has lobbyists on the payroll in Austin or D.C.
What it comes down to for most city council decisions is looking at a proposed action and trying to weigh the pros and cons of it rationally, given all the known facts at hand. It’s imperfect, but the cool thing about the local levels is that our local politicians are much closer to the consequences of their actions.
So although they may argue about an action, and worry about consequences, they generally hope for the best and won’t undermine a decision just for the point of being victorious.
It’s because of the lack of polarization that local council members and school board trustees feel enough trust with each other that they can be more honest about their concerns with an item being considered. There is a true willingness to compromise.
I’ve seen Republicans do truly progressive things. I’ve seen Democrats hold the line on spending.
I’ve seen alliances that cross the lines from left to right. I’ve seen people argue against each other on one item, then team up to pass another one.
As a journalist, I’ve tried to bring you as objective a view as possible into our local government and its elections. As a citizen and stakeholder in this community, I care deeply about our government remaining functional.
I don’t want to see our system turn toxic.
For those reasons, when it comes to city council and school board races, we’re going to cover candidates for their experience, knowledge, ideas, and temperament. When it comes to their partisan leanings, we don’t ask. If it’s really that important to a candidate, they’ll usually disclose that themselves.
If they make a big enough deal out of it, then we may end up writing about it.
I personally think it’s foolish and intellectually lazy to give my vote to someone based on the label they’ve given themselves. I want to know what they plan to do, and whether they are capable.
But that’s just me. If you want to vote by party, you’ll just have to do your research to see what tribe your candidate belongs to.
We will be here to talk to them about issues that a city council or school board can actually take action on.