Is the party over?

14 11 2009

parties

Anyone who knows me will tell you I love a good party … except when it comes to politics. Anyone who knows me will also tell you that I love observing politics, and the results of this off-year election have really made me wonder if we’re witnessing a new trend.
For a long time, I’ve felt that party affiliation shouldn’t come into play on the local level. In fact, I wrote about it two years ago when working for The Free Press in Kinston, N.C., when the issue of non-partisan voting there was a source of local conversation.
What’s interesting to me is the number of local candidates who actually lost their major party primaries in September but went on to win this month’s general election.
In Amsterdam, incumbent 2nd Ward Supervisor Barb Johnson lost the Democratic primary to Jeffrey Stark but was re-elected running on the Conservative Party line.
In Gloversville, Dayton King won the mayor’s seat as an independent after losing the Republican primary. Ironically, his GOP opponent, JoAnn Clear, finished second in that four-way race.
In Broadalbin, Joe DiGiacomo won the supervisor’s race on the Conservative line after losing to George Walters in September’s Republican primary. Same with Linda Kemper, who was re-elected as Northampton Town Supervisor on the Conservative Party line after failing to secure the GOP nomination against Northville Mayor Jim Groff.
Interestingly enough, in the town of Mohawk, Conservative Party candidate Gregory Rajkowski easily won the supervisor’s post there, beating out Republican Ray Tylutki and Democrat Wayne DeMallie.
Let’s also not forget the 23rd Congressional race in New York (I happen to live in this district) where Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman came out of nowhere, knocked the GOP candidate out of the race and came within a shorthair of beating the Nov. 3 winner, Bill Owens. As it turns out, that race may not be over, as a recount shows Hoffman gaining ground, to the point where Owens, who was already sworn in as this district’s congressman, may eventually have to be removed if Hoffman pulls this thing off.
For years, most of the calls for a viable third party have come from pundits and prognosticators who normally would be dismissed as being “on the fringe,” which is frankly a nice way of calling someone a kook.
But given the results of this latest election, I can’t help but think that maybe a move, albeit slight right now, away from the Republican and Democratic parties is starting to take wings.
Not that I would be opposed to that. I’ve always believed that real change starts at the local level, and I think the results of this last election show that major party politics isn’t necessarily a deciding factor in campaigns.
I’m well aware that there are other factors that come into play on the local level, such as who knows who and members of a certain party getting behind an “outsider” and the like. In politics, whether it’s local or national, there are always deals being made to keep certain people out of office, no matter what.
But I also think the seeds have been planted to move away from the traditional two-party system at all levels. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in years to come.

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5 responses

14 11 2009
Laura

I am very encouraged by the off year election results for two reasons. One being what you talk about with a third party having so many victories (especially since I consider myself a conservative). I also think the turnout for the election was much higher than the usual off year vote. I know that I was pleasantly surprised when I had to wait in line to vote at my polling place. I hope the trend continues in 2010.

14 11 2009
kmatt

c-
factors may be in play here.
fewer people tend to vote in primaries, and the ones who do are usually those interested in affecting change. barb johnson’s fans might not have shown up in september, thinking she was a lock to win. when she lost, in stark contrast, as it were, they said oops and made sure it didn’t happen a second time in november.
fool me once, shame on … what a fool believes … fool for the city … fooled around and fell in love … we won’t get fooled again, to paraphrase a former world leader who also won by losing an election.
but i digress.

there is also the argument that local is as local does. i’m not convinced that local elections like the one just past rely as heavily on party affiliation as they do on popularity and performance.
governors and senators and presidents rely heavily on their party affiliations in the swift completion of their appointed rounds. it is my humble opinion that the town supervisor relies on this to a lesser extent. as long as the roads are passable and the basic needs are met, there is less of a call for partisanship. (‘we democrats are planning a filibuster to halt the paving of hyney hill.’ not something we hear very often.)
where this argument does not hold up, perhaps, is the amsterdam common council, which pretty much skips to the beat of a different drum.

i think you have to run through a couple of election cycles (read: eight years or so) before you can start to plot an arrow on a graph. this year, i think, voters were hit with a lot of primaries and decisions were being flung about like frisbees. but when it came to nut-cutting time, cooler heads prevailed.
it’s an interesting theory and will be fun to watch in the years to come, as you state. ask the voters – see what they say.
-k

14 11 2009
Richard C. Klueg

It will be difficult to break the two-party system beyond the local level. Those at higher levels who come in as third party or independent always seem to “caucus” with either R or D. There does seem to be, however, an increasing disillusionment from “party faithful,” at least on the republican side (CD-23 is a case in point, when clueless party leaders nominate a candidate who is more liberal than the opposing democrat – and get a sound public spanking for it at the polls).

What I don’t want is a condition such as we see in many other countries, where there is a large number of parties with wildly different positions. The sharp turn the present administration has taken to the left is jarring enough, but I’d hate to see a socialist-communist-green coalition of parties win one time, and then switch to a redneck-militia-anarchist coalition take over the next time. The other disaster would be having the RINOs take over the Republican party, leaving us with what would be a in actuality a one party system.

15 11 2009
Charlie Kraebel

Good points being raised here.
Here’s a thought … what if we got rid of partisan elections at the local level? By local, I mean village, town, county, and maybe even city elections.

Building a little off what kmatt said … I seriously doubt the Republican or Democrat parties have official positions when it comes to garbage pickup or paving and plowing roads. So why is it necessary to force people seeking local office to run under a party banner?
It doesn’t diminish membership in a political party on a state and/or national level. If you believe in the Democrat or Republican ideologies, then by all means you should be a part of those political parties.
I just fail to see how they come into play on the local level. On election night, we wound up going with a sub-headline that said something to the effect of “GOP retains control of city council.”
While that statement is true on a factual level, I seriously doubt Michael Steele or Newt Gingrich or Sarah Palin have had or will have any influence over decisions made by members of the Amsterdam Common Council … unless the city plans on taking up such issues such as health care, the war on terror, abortion etc. (Note: I think the city has enough on its plate without worrying about those issues).

Anyhoo … just some food for thought. I’d love to hear from anyone else who might be lurking out there (and judging by the traffic since I restarted this thing, I know you’re reading).

23 11 2009
w murphy

Krab:
I meant to respond a while ago to this post as I’ve thought about this issue for many years- namely, what does party affiliation really mean at the local level? Growing up in Amsterdam, I learned that most Dems I knew were typically far right of moderate. Many were Irish or Polish catholics who almost had an old school machine devotion to the Kennedy Democratic party, but as time marched on and the newer Dem party moved further left, they stayed where they were, and then disgustedly moved further right- old school to the core they either switched parties or simply called themselves Democrat out of family tradition.

But getting to the core of the matter- could things actually be better if local politicians decided to ditch party affiliations? I suppose there is some potential to this notion- devote yourself to keeping taxes in check, maintaining and improving the infrastructure, and figuring out ways to foster growth- all pretty practical things that could be better accomplished by an agnostic (politically speaking), pragmatic, I-owe-nobody-anything, public servant.

But here’s where reality sets in. As the poet William Carlos Williams said- ‘The local is the universal.’ Which can be interpreted to mean- what happens here, happens everywhere, and begins to seep in and define our national dynamic and persona- not the other way around. As local politicians take stances on Gay Marriage, so goes the state movement & perhaps eventually begins to shape a national movement that ulitimately leads to a nation that is more tolerant of gays. You can follow this same continuum on any number of economic, urban revitalization, climate, and any number of issues that intersect at the local/state/national/international level. In this context, party affiliation is indeed the most effective way to bring collective resources to the cause- you reap what you sow- you pay your dues to your party, and you bring collective change to your core causes.

That is why as a Democrat I found the local controversy that erupted after the recent elections so intriguing. While I’m chagrined with the state of the local Dem party and the hamhandedness of this past election debacle- I couldn’t in a million years see myself flipping to to the other side (and if I did, the sight of Sarah Palin always jars me back to reality). I have a set of core beliefs that typically fall within the Democratic Party way of looking at things. And if I ever run for anything, I’d hope that I’d be asked to lend a hand in any of the larger political initiatives that are important to the party. To sit somewhere in between is to render yourself a politically impotent maverick- deciding your stances issue-by-issue, with no committed team with shared, core beliefs behind you.

And this is what has allowed the two party system to endure after so many years of often odious, clan-style, machine politics on both sides. It is an imperfect system, but one that forces you to decide which family you are more akin to, and then lean on them when you need them, and scold them when they sell out.

Postlogue- The one area that I’d like to follow up on in a future post & that causes me constant personal confusion and consternation, is what to do when a friend (or perhaps someone you simply agree with or admire), runs for office and is of the opposite political affiliation. This happens often at the local level, and I’m wondering what people’s views are on this dynamic- sit on your hands? Make public endorsements? Put out a little sign, but nothing more? Not sure what the protocol should be here-especially if you are a local politician, but it relates to the same argument you’ve raised with your post.

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