It’s my party

The Asheville City Council’s majority decision requiring candidates to declare a political-party affiliation is, quite simply, truth in advertising for voters. Party affiliation is a shorthand method for helping voters decide whether a candidate shares their values.

Ask any voter what it means to be a Democrat or a Republican and they’ll probably list a series of attributes identified with each party. That’s because party affiliation brings with it a set of broadly defined values voters use to gauge whether a candidate is right for them.

Ask a voter what it means to be an “unaffiliated” candidate, however, and you are likely to get a blank stare. So while requiring party identification may be an imperfect system, it does provide a road map to a candidate’s values.

That would have been helpful when I ran for City Council in 2003. With 13 candidates on the ballot for the primary, many voters were looking for some guidance, and party affiliation would have been a good starting point.

I suspect that some of those most opposed to this change fear that having to show their true colors—and run as a Republican in Asheville—would lessen their chances of getting elected. They, too, know that party affiliation matters to voters and that, with the voter-registration numbers already stacked against them, the candidates running as Republicans would probably have to be more centrist to win in Asheville. But isn’t that how it should be in a democracy?

Some have also argued that switching to partisan elections means third-party candidates will have a tougher time getting elected. But consider this: In the last six election cycles—all of them nonpartisan elections—not a single third-party candidate was elected to City Council. How could switching to partisan elections make things any worse?

Finally, many have argued that it’s not City Council’s place to make such a change. Voters, it’s been said, should have been the ones to make this decision. Some also maintain that the decision should have been put off until after this year’s Council elections.

But our system of local governance is designed to be a representative democracy. We elect a mayor and City Council and trust in their wisdom to guide our city. I don’t always agree with their decisions, but this is the system we have.

If, however, a majority of the voters are truly aggrieved by this decision, we do have a self-correcting process: It’s called elections.

[Chris Pelly, a two-time candidate for Asheville City Council, is president of the Haw Creek Community Association.]

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8 thoughts on “It’s my party

  1. What if you have a two-party system and BOTH parties (as is often the case) are wrong?

    There is good reason that the nonaffiliated ranks swell. Let’s keep city council nonpartisan. They’re crazy enough as it is. ;-)

  2. Matt Mittan

    Thanks for offering an opposing argument on this topic Chris. However, there is a major flaw in your argument… You said, “If, however, a majority of the voters are truly aggrieved by this decision, we do have a self-correcting process: It’s called elections.”

    The truth is that the process for fair elections in Asheville has just been undermined. Not only to the second largest block of voters – Unaffiliated registrants – but for partisan voters as well. Unaffiliated residents now face much tougher, restrictive and stringent hurdles to be involved in municiple elections. Democratic and Republican voters have also seen their choices artificially restricted as well.

    No matter where people fall on the philisophical paradigm, I don’t see how anyone who believes in “a representative democracy” (as you put it) can argue in favor of setting up different rules for otherwise equal residents – simply based on whether or not they choose to burn a “D” or an “R” on their forehead.

    The Declaration of Ind. didn’t say “We The Partisans” it said “We The People”… and over 15,000 of us “people” in Asheville choose to be unaffiliated – but four “D’s” just told us we’re not good enough to sit at the same table as them.

    There’s no reasonable defense for this kind of arrogance. If you want ‘full disclosure’, here it is: This policy was put in place to forcibly reduce competition, thus increase the ‘Fab Four’s’ chances this fall, in their bid to maintain power. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Chris, I’m sorry you lost two election bids to be on City Council, but it wasn’t because people didn’t see an “R” or a “D” next to your name, it’s because your message didn’t resonate with enough voters.

  3. 1. Mr. Pelly states, “In the last six election cycles—all of them nonpartisan elections—not a single third-party candidate was elected to City Council. How could switching to partisan elections make things any worse?”

    Who could not answer this question?!

    How could switching to partisan elections make things any worse? By making things worse! With nonpartisan elections, the unaffiliated can compete alongside anyone else in the political marketplace. It matters not that there is poor support for third parties. What matters is that the door is open to them. Changing the charter to partisan elections makes things worse by closing the door entirely on the 27% of unaffiliated in Asheville.

    So the question really should be: How does partisan elections in Asheville make things better?

    Mr. Pelly introduces circular logic in his main argument in favor of partisan elections. He maintains that the unaffiliated should be marginalized and excluded because they are not popular. But are they unpopular because they are systematically excluded? Chicken – Egg; Egg – Chicken.

    2. Mr. Pelly states, “we do have a self-correcting process: It’s called elections.”

    Wrong, Mr. Pelly. We have, in fact, TWO legal, democratic methods of self-correcting: 1) Elections, and 2) Referendums. Both methods are available to the public to redress grievances. The “Let Asheville Vote” coalition has chosen the second of the two methods.

    3. The burden is on Mr. Pelly to justify changing the city’s charter. He most certainly has not done that.

  4. the problem is, the Democrats think that the “Progressives”and the myriad other ‘undeclared voters” are on their side. this is why we distrust the Dems as mush or more than the RePub’s

  5. bernard carman

    also seemingly overlooked by Chris, in every single AVL election i have witnessed over the past decade or so, party affiliation has ALWAYS been publicly disclosed.

    in fact, i have heard some candidates say that various media sources said they would not even print their interview UNLESS they disclosed their party affiliation!

    therefore, all this banter about AVL voters needing to know candidate party affiliation is bogus.

    let’s face it folks… the powers that be want to remain in power!

    “conform or be cast out” – Neil Peart, Rush

  6. andy

    I know this is not deep or anything. But being forced to declare an party affiliation for a CITY COUNCIL election is unnecessary for many reasons. Namely, what difference is it what your party’s stance is on Iraq when your main responsibily is brush pick up? Please answer me that one. Thanks!

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