With local elections right around the corner, candidate signs are cropping up in yards and right-of-ways while office-seekers are knocking on doors. One of the most refreshing aspects of municipal and school board races always has been their non-partisan nature.
Looking at the contests in Hays, for example, it's hard to imagine a party point of view on issues such as street repairs or whether ballfields should have sod or artificial turf. What would be a prevailing Republican perspective on building a new conference center? Would Democrats be more likely to fix roofs on school buildings? And even with more than 5,000 Ellis Countians registered as Unaffiliated, could an independent candidate ever become mayor of Hays, Ellis or Victoria?
Such questions seem far-fetched, but only because we're accustomed to candidates running as individuals in local races. But if a certain bill before the Kansas Senate becomes law, all local elections would be partisan. While a House bill would keep them non-partisan, there appears to be support growing for the Senate version.
"Partisan designations help voters elect the person who aligns with their philosophy," offered Kelly Arnold, chairwoman of the Kansas Republican Party, in written testimony. "Municipal elections are so low-key most voters don't vote because they know nothing of the candidates."
We don't share such a bleak assessment of Kansas voters, particularly here in the northwest corner of the state. All politics is local, and people here pride themselves on knowing as much as they can about candidates. They want to know if the pothole on Main Street is a high-enough priority for the person who's seeking office, not whether their philosophies align on what passes for politics in Topeka or Washington.
In fact, we would offer a more reasonable path to take would be to eliminate the partisan nature of county elections. It truly is difficult to imagine either of the dominant political parties has a clearer vision regarding the duties of the Register of Deeds. We want qualified individuals to put their hats in the ring, regardless of party.
We would guess those pushing for partisan local elections are the same forces attempting to place all three branches of state government in lockstep. Such an approach, if ultimately successful, will benefit the party in power -- but does little for the citizenry.
Legislators should adopt the House version of the local elections bill. We have no qualm with moving the dates of local elections, or even the year for that matter, if it will result in greater participation. But forcing school board members and city commissioners to declare a party should be rejected by Republicans, Democrats and Unaffiliateds alike.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry