After reading the article “Are local elections becoming nonpartisan in name only?” I am reminded this is not a question we should take lightly.
It’s hard work being a local candidate. It may be simple to say Democrat or Republican, but national politics very often have little to do with what happens in a city council meeting or at a school board meeting. The truth is that “which local streets get fixed?” “do we get a new school?” or “do we invest in a new water treatment plant?” – these decisions are about what is good for our neighbors and our families.
So when I read about how our elections are becoming more partisan, I thought “we have to ask ourselves – is this really in the best interest of our friends and neighbors?” And, I believe that the resounding answer is “no.” While we should always have an interest in educating voters and assisting them with making plans to get to the polls, the success of our democracy is not simply measured by turnout numbers fueled by an “us v. them” argument.
The article (in the Fall Journal) did briefly point out that a partisan shift for municipal elections “could also keep some local candidates on the sidelines because they work for employers, including the federal government, that have allowances for nonpartisan public service but don’t allow for partisan campaigning.” I do believe that this important detail should not be quickly dismissed.
Federal employees may not seek public office in partisan elections or engage in partisan activity while on duty. Service members are also prevented from engaging in partisan activity. Some government agencies at the state level and private businesses also have internal policies against running for partisan office. In fact, I would not have been able to run for my first school board term if the election had been partisan because of my company’s policy. Within our rural communities, this would greatly reduce the number of folks who could run to serve in these local positions.
What happened in the 2021 local cycle should be a wake-up call to us all that if we stop listening to our neighbors and spend too much time scrolling through social media, we will all be a lot angrier and not really better off. I encourage Kansans to put down the phone and show up to our local government meetings. Do this and you will start to see how much our own communities need us.
Times are hard but we don’t have to become hardened because of them. Let’s come together to rebuild our communities from the ravage of the pandemic. As folks are recovering, now is when Kansas must be at its best. We need to come together and help each other. I fear that if local elections turn into partisan food fights, we lose just a little bit more of what we loved about our own communities. And I don’t think that price is worth it.
Lynn W. Rogers
State of Kansas Treasurer
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This letter is a response to an article appears in the Fall 2021 issue of The Journal, a publication of the Kansas Leadership Center. To learn more about KLC, visit http://kansasleadershipcenter.org. Order your copy of the magazine at the KLC Store or subscribe to the print edition.
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