Where’s the Party?

 The Secretary of State just released the official list of parties that are qualified for this June’s statewide primary. No surprises here, although we might be forgiven for sometimes forgetting that 1 in 16 California voters is registered with a party whose name doesn’t start with a D or an R (specifically, an L, a P, a G, or an A).

The release of this list is a good reminder that county offices are nonpartisan by design. While many supervisors, sheriffs, special district board members, and other local officials are registered with one party or another, the California Constitution prohibits that information from appearing on the ballot.

So instead of making decisions about a candidate based on whether their ballot says he or she is on the same political team, local voters have to rely on candidates’ records and how they conduct themselves.

Supervisors build their records little by little, voting for or against land use change requests, this or that affordable housing project, which road to pave next, whether to require septic conversion, how to best control flood risks in certain areas, and where to put a skate park.

While most of these individual votes escape the notice of just about everyone, their accumulated impact is a big part of an elected official’s public persona.

National leaders can get away with using unspecific code words like “economic development,” “jobs,” and “national security,” but these phrases only define the problems, not the solutions. And in these days of principles over practicalities we can find a focus group-approved way to oppose any particular program our opponents promote.

But not when the issues are local. County supervisors are graded every four years on whether they can work with their four (or eight) colleagues and get things done regardless of their views on national issues or overarching philosophy. That’s representative democracy.

About: Geoffrey Neill:
Geoffrey Neill is CSAC's senior legislative analyst for revenue & tax issues. He can be reached at gneill.at.counties.org.

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