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Face it, all elections are partisan

American voters like partisan labels. They’re convenient, revealing and useful. Given what occurred last week and in November, the idea of non-partisan elections is over.

  • By
  • | 8:10 p.m. March 19, 2015
  • Sarasota
  • Opinion
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Come on, admit it. Even if you don’t like it, you have to admit it: Every election for public office has a degree of partisanship.

The higher the office in the electoral food chain the greater the partisanship.

So anyone who thinks City Commission elections in little, ol’, sweet, small-town Sarasota are non-partisan certainly saw that dispelled in full public view over the past month.

The Sarasota Democrats made no pretenses about it. They went all out over the past few weeks to draw out their loyalists to the city polls and elect their “non-partisan” Democratic Party commission candidates, Liz Alpert and Shelli Freeland Eddie.

They almost succeeded. 

Alpert garnered more votes for the District 2 seat than did her two opponents, one a registered Democrat, one a registered Republican, creating a run-off election. And Freeland Eddie likewise created a runoff in District 3 against incumbent Stan Zimmerman, also a Republican.

Zimmerman and fellow incumbent (Republican) Commissioner Eileen Normile sounded taken aback — and rather irked — by the Democrats’ blatant insurgency into the election. The two Republicans tried in their campaigns to take the high road and  keep the races non-partisan. 

Even Joe Gruters, chairman of the Republican Party of Sarasota County, made a public offer to keep his party’s voter machine out of non-partisan races if his counterpart, newly appointed Democratic Party Chairwoman Christine Jennings, would do the same. 

It should have surprised no one, though,  that Jennings rejected Gruters’ peace pipe. This, after all, is the Democrat Christine Jennings who in 2006 fought like Al Gore did in 2000 over her loss to Republican Congressman Vern Buchanan.

Sorry, Joe. This is politics. And the Democrats in Sarasota County are determined to do whatever it takes within the law to break the Republicans’ lock on this region’s elected offices. 

Jennings’ response followed by four months the partisan fighting that erupted in the non-partisan Sarasota County School Board race between Ken Marsh (Democrat) and the eventual winner, Bridget Ziegler (Republican). The Democratic and Republican parties both lobbied — albeit not publicly — on behalf of their candidates, sparking complaints of “no fair” and “they started it” from both sides.

The matter became particularly testy at a Tiger Bay Club of Sarasota luncheon after the November elections. Several attendees argued partisan politics and political parties should not be involved at all in the non-partisan school board and City Commission elections.

Dream on.

To begin with, as much as some people firmly believe that school board or city of Sarasota issues are neither Republican nor Democratic, there is that old saying: All is fair in love, war and politics. Whether you like or not, political, partisan philosophies will always be a part of every election, even if they are below the surface.

What’s more, if the objective of a candidate is to win the election, and if that candidate is not a naive idealist and understands that politics is dirty no matter what, that candidate is going to do whatever he can to gin up voter turnout in his favor. And that typically starts with recruiting the people you know (friends and their friends) and the people who think like you (voters who vote the way you do).

The latter eventually leads to the political parties and their lists of voters. 

Let’s be honest here. American voters like partisan labels. When a candidate lists himself as a Democrat or Republican or Libertarian or Communist or Independent, he gives voters a frame of reference on what he believes. They tell you a lot without even knowing the candidate. In the end, these labels are convenient, revealing and useful. 

And, sorry, they’re partisan.

No doubt, there will be many traditionalists in Sarasota who want to cling to non-partisan school board and City Commission elections. But given what occurred in November and last month, it looks as if there will be no turning back.

It’s war out there.

Like it or not, all elections are partisan. We should quit pretending they’re not.





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