Now that House Bill 1182 has died convincingly in the North Dakota House of Representatives, let’s be done with proposals to push local-level office-seekers to declare political affiliation.
HB 1182 was defeated this week by a 55-36 vote. According to its sponsor, Rep. Scott Louser, R-Minot, it sought to add transparency to the local election process by encouraging candidates to declare their party affiliation. In 2019, a similar proposal would have required the party designation, but it too was defeated, 53-37.
According to reporting by Forum News Service, Louser believes party affiliation is "a leading indicator" of how an officeholder will vote on the issues. He says there's no sense in pretending local government isn't political by nature.
Perhaps in some cases that’s true, but not in all cases. That’s why it’s wrong to shine a political spotlight on the many people who make local decisions on our behalf and do so without politics seeping into the process. Adding the “optional” clause this time still didn’t make it right, since it would have put pressure on candidates to do so.
No. Political background and beliefs do not matter as board members mull hyper-local decisions about, say, whether to close an elementary school. As West Fargo Mayor Bernie Dardis said in public testimony against the bill: “There is no Democratic or Republican way to collect garbage.”
Further, adding a conspicuous letter behind a name in a local election could have ramifications beyond local races, since too many voters today simply check boxes on a ballot based on their own political beliefs. At the local level, that could push out experienced and worthy candidates whose greatest detriment is their own honesty about their political background.
Political designations also could unfairly slant the political process in the favor of North Dakota’s current dominant party. In this state, Republicans hold great sway over Democrats; an “R” behind a name could give those candidates an edge. It could make local politics a sort of proving ground for young up-and-comers who have little interest in, for example, school district decisions but instead only seek higher office and name recognition on their way to higher office.
Fortunately, many in the Legislature apparently feel the same way. Although the North Dakota lawmaking body is dominated by the GOP – Republicans hold 120 of 141 seats – lawmakers still voted down HB 1182, even though it would have favored Republicans in the long run. Good for them.
So that should do it. Local elections should be decided by voters who believe in a candidate’s vision for local progress and ground-level decision-making. Pre-election debates and forums should be about hyper-local issues and not about party politics.
HB 1182 deserved its death and after two attempts to add letters behind candidates’ names, hopefully North Dakota can rid itself of the idea.