To Partisan or Not to Partisan – that is the question.

April 11, 2024

As we are approaching the May primary, we are in the season where our Central Committee is being asked to endorse candidates – and we had some discussion at our last meeting about endorsing candidates in non-partisan races.  You may have some of the same questions – so let’s talk about it!

There was a debate about if candidates in non-partisan races should be endorsed.  To be clear, these are registered Democrats running for a position that is non-partisan.  

Did you know our bylaws and policy procedures state that we can endorse, and even financially support, a registered Democrat that is running for a non-partisan position!  

For you policy wonks – here is an excerpt from our policy document for Candidate Support and Funding (which was written in 2008, and reformatted in 2020).

….

  1. Non-partisan State, County, City, and District Offices if candidate is a Democrat.
  2. Non-financial support and endorsement of Democratic candidates.
  3. Possible financial support of Democratic Candidates.
  • Expedited funds may be provided for Democratic Candidates for County Commissioner.

….

So what is the difference in these races?  When a position is listed as “non-partisan,” the political registration of the person running is not noted next to their name in the Voter Pamphlet. The position is also considered “non-political” in nature.  However, a lot of these positions often benefit from having a person with Democratic values in them! 

Non-partisan positions can include, but are not limited to: County Commissioner, School Board, City Council, and even Mayors!  They also often include board members of water districts, cemetery districts, and fire districts.

These are all important positions within our community where a Democrat can add value in the decision-making process while helping to shape policies that Democrats would like to see implemented.  And for us, as a county party, this is where we often are able to build our bench of qualified candidates.  Candidates who served and learned while on a school board or city council are the experienced people that we can draw from to later run for a partisan position. They can use their experience as a policymaker to demonstrate competence and qualification.

It’s important that we are supporting Democrats running for and winning these races!!!

If you have been involved with the Polk County Democrats for a while, you may remember a time when we did not endorse candidates in non-partisan races, even though it was allowed in the policies and bylaws.  When I became involved with the Polk County Democrats, and was elected to serve as Co-Vice Chair, I did some research into a non-partisan race that we had not supported.  The candidate, who was running for County Commissioner, lost by less than a dozen votes.  A registered Republican ended up winning that race.  I had to ask how we could do better going forward?  And the answer was to change our thinking about non-partisan races.  

After all, one of the major roles of the Polk County Democrats is to help elect Democrats!  We  decided to move past the prior thinking, and to not only endorse non-partisan candidates, but to support them in any way we could.  The first year, we ran a coordinated slate of candidates for Dallas City Council.  And as a result, we have an awesome councilor on the Dallas City Council now who fought for – and won – buying and displaying a “Celebrate Black History” banner on the library for Black History Month.  

In Dallas, Oregon, home of some of the most far-right extremists we have come across, the city now publicly supports Black History Month.  This never would have happened if we didn’t have a councilor with Democratic values working for the people of Dallas.  We knew we had made the right decision to support Democrats, and we kept going!

We supported a County Commissioner for Polk County who has been leading the way to reduce homelessness in Polk County and has worked tirelessly for the Dallas Transitional Housing project.  His efforts have shown that Democratic values matter in a non-partisan position.  

We have supported school board slates against well-funded far right extremists campaigns.  And we won, keeping our students and schools from dangerous policy changes that could affect all of us for years to come.

Every Democrat that we help run, win, and execute policy changes with the values that we hold is important.  The label next to the position in the voter pamphlet should not, and does not, dictate where we can make a difference.  

When election time rolls around, and you go to mark your ballot, there will be races that are listed as “non-partisan”.  Many times, people will look to the Polk County Democrats to help make a decision on who to vote for.  I have personally fielded many calls from folks who wanted to vote in the race, but they didn’t know who to choose.  So, they call us to ask “Who is the Democrat in this race?”  When we endorse these races, and support these candidates, we are helping our fellow Democratic voters vote for someone that shares their values- something they absolutely want to do!  

We are taking all the steps we can to help turn this purple county BLUE!!!  We ask for your support for all the Democrats running this year, and in the years to come, because we have no plans to look back, and are building a county party that gets results!  Whether they are partisan or non-partisan, city, county, state, federal – we support Democrats running for office!

Beth Vaughn

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