Making more judicial and local races partisan puts politics above good governance

Having retained control of the General Assembly, Republicans now are moving to infect more judicial and local campaigns with partisanship. A number of bills now before the legislature would turn nonpartisan races into partisan ones, and that is a bad, bad idea.

The bills include proposals to make District Court and Superior Court elections partisan — in other words, identifying candidates by party affiliation. Other bills would do the same for school board, mayor, town councils and even the State Board of Education. These are colossally bad ideas.

Most people in Raleigh, for example, probably couldn’t identify the political party to which most city council members belong. The races for the council are non-partisan, which is good in several ways: partisan races tend to bring in money from the Democratic and Republican parties, which makes them more expensive; candidates have to raise more money because of that; local candidates such as those for council are likely to be drawn in to partisan stances of the parties to which they belong, which takes the public’s eye off of local issues; and inevitably, partisan races can get downright negative because of the influence of state and national parties.

Judicial races at the District and Superior Court level have been nonpartisan because once on the bench, judges are supposed to follow the rule of law without any bias, much less political bias.

The move to expand the partisan label to virtually all campaigns at all levels is coming from Republicans, who are riding high now. Their efforts smack of an attempt to take a swipe at Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who ousted incumbent Republican Pat McCrory from the governor’s office. Republicans already installed a procedure whereby the state Senate, controlled by Republicans, has to approve Cooper’s Cabinet nominees, and GOP leaders also diminished the number of patronage appointments to which Cooper was entitled.

GOP leaders must figure that with control of the General Assembly — and thus with more political donations coming in — they somehow can use their power on Jones Street to spread Republican control to local offices. In that, they are arrogantly and woefully mistaken.

Citizens in the towns and cities and rural areas of North Carolina are not going to be led into the voting booth by those in the General Assembly who want to label their candidates with an “R” or a “D” and expect them to reject wholeheartedly the “D.” That lawmakers in downtown Raleigh think they can so easily manipulate local voters is an insult to those voters, all over North Carolina. And for what purpose? Political power.