As Coloradans begin voting, parties matter

Amid all the attention to Election 2012, voters in Colorado and many other states should not overlook Election 2011. And as we vote, by all means take note of who the R’s and D’s are—even if it takes a bit of detective work to find out.

Here in my state, the election might slip past some people for three reasons. First, ballots in most counties will be handled entirely by mail, with no polling places open. Many thousands of voters have received their ballots (asked for or not) from the postman in recent days. Voting is on right now!

And second, election day itself is Tuesday, Nov. 1—something that can never occur when federal races are at stake, since “the first Tuesday after the first Monday” is specified in the US Constitution. Counting occurs that night, and that’s that.

A third factor tending to keep this year’s Colorado races under the radar is the misguided policy forbidding candidates’ party affiliations to be officially listed in municipal and school board races—which constitute most of the matters being voted on this year.

Political parties are valuable to citizen decision-making because they help “brand” candidates according to broadly contrasting principles of governance, and because they provide an organizational base with competitive incentives to inform and turn out voters in greater numbers.

The fallacy that parties degrade or impede the quality of governance is a vestige of the Progressive Movement’s disdain for broad–based political decision–making and its elitist preference for administrative expertise as a substitute.

Enshrined in election law nearly a century ago for local government nearly everywhere across the land, this wooly–headed piece of political sentimentality remains in place today—to the detriment of genuinely competitive contests and robust checks on power.

It’s one of those notions only an intellectual or a naif can believe in. All the rest of us know that it matters a lot whether any office in the land, high or low, is held by a Democrat or a Republican. Democrats generally favor government solutions, unions, collectivist approaches, taxes and spending. Republicans are more generally skeptical of those things. This can end up making a huge difference.

When I was a state senator, 1998–2005, I tried repeatedly to bring party affiliations out in the open for school board and transit district elections—since those affiliations already play an unadmitted role both in voting patterns and in the conduct of officials once elected—but to my disappointment, not even my fellow Republicans would support this needed reform in sufficient numbers to enact it.

As a result, I didn’t even attempt the same kind of bill for municipal elections. The irrational phobia against “partisanship” for town or city officials (albeit that county officials in buildings often right across the street, and often representing a smaller population, are partisan) just seemed too much to overcome. So I saved my ammo for more winnable fights.

But early in the history of my newly incorporated hometown of Centennial in southeast metro Denver (formed only in 2000), I had a good time calling out with blog posts the generically–concealed R and D team jerseys for city council candidates—much to the inexplicable dismay of, again, some fellow GOP stalwarts.

It’s become a habit since then, this politically incorrect labeling of the red team and the blue team in grassroots contests. If you want to see this year’s rundown, here’s the link.

Meanwhile, Coloradans also have a very important ballot issue to vote on—Proposition 103, which raises both income taxes and sales taxes across the state for the next five years.

This issue also generally breaks along party lines, with Dems in favor and Republicans opposed. But there are some oddities on Prop 103, with the Denver Post having come out against it and Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper claiming neutrality, refusing to lend his support.

Centennial Institute does not take positions on such questions, but we commend the work of our sister think tank, Independence Institute, whose fiscal experts Barry Poulson and Penn Pfiffner have keenly analyzed Prop 103 here. My own very skeptical thoughts on the tax hike are here.


John Andrews is director of the Centennial Institute, former President of the Colorado Senate, a regular commentator for Colorado Public Television and the Denver Post, and the author of “Responsibility Reborn: A Citizen’s Guide to the Next American Century” (Denali Press, 2011).

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