Monday, November 23, 2020

Partisan Nonpartisan Elections

School and municipal elections are supposed to be nonpartisan. I say "supposed to be" loosely. There's no law about this. For practical purposes "nonpartisan" just means that "R" and "D" don't appear after candidates' names on the ballot. Everything else is just custom and tradition. Over the last few elections, those customs seem to be breaking down.

The latest example is from a runoff election just to Richardson's south for Dallas ISD school board District 2. One candidate is making no secret of endorsements by nakedly partisan groups. Jim Schutze has all the confusing details ("‘Non-Partisan’ School Board Runoff Is Partisan-‘Til-You-Drop").

In Plano in 2019, none other than Republican governor Greg Abbott endorsed two candidates in the Plano City Council elections. Here in Richardson, the Richardson City Council elections in 2019 laid a muddy trail along the same lines, only with Democratic state representative Ana-Maria Ramos and Democratic Party affiliated groups working (and failing) to elect an unofficial slate of candidates for Richardson City Council. I won't be surprised if that trend continues in 2021 and my own appeals to keep local elections nonpartisan look even more like a cry in the wilderness than they did then.

In a related tradition, the school board and the city council historically have kept a wide berth from each other's domains. One notable exception was in 2014, when Richardson Mayor Laura Maczka not only endorsed a school board candidate, but recorded a robo-call for her campaign. That candidate lost and the soon-to-be former mayor was convicted of bribery, not that the two things were related, but if you believe in karma and cock your head just so, maybe there's a lesson there somewhere.

There's another tradition, or maybe just coincidence, in Richardson elections. In 2008, former RISD trustee Carol Kent crossed over into partisan politics and was elected to the Texas legislature, a nakedly partisan institution if there is one. As far as I know, she's the only person who has done that. And no one in Richardson in my memory has moved from school board to city council or vice versa. That streak could be broken in 2021. As we say here at The Wheel, "the times they are a-changin’".

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