"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance"

--James Madison--

"The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries, but between authoritarians and libertarians"

--George Orwell--

Non Partisanship

Political parties are a cancer on our body politic. They must have their influence reduced, and I have just the prescription.

But first off, something of an apology.
Over the years, I believe that I may have touted the city where I live (Denver, Colorado) as some sort of liberal Valhalla. It isn't. But overall, it is perhaps the most liberal major city in this part of the country. Depending on how you judge "liberal" and "major city", I suppose that an argument could be made for Santa Fe, New Mexico instead.

Anyway, that's largely irrelevant. I just want to make it clear that I recognize that nothing, nowhere and nobody is perfect.

Here in the Mile High City, where about 1/2 of the business names start with either "Mile High" or "Mile Hi", we have an interesting twist when it comes to our municipal government. It's not unique to Denver, we didn't invent it, but it works well, and not enough jurisdictions have tried it.

We have a non partisan government.

Political parties are out of the picture entirely when it comes to our municipal elections. Well, almost entirely. They are allowed to donate up to $500 to each candidate, which is the same limitation that applies to both individuals and businesses. The limitation is small enough that you don't see a bunch of ads on TV during our election years. Which is good, because they occur in odd-numbered years.
The elected positions are Mayor, City Auditor, Clerk and Recorder, and City Council, which consists of 10 districts and two at-large seats. So, every four years, 15 positions are up for grabs.

Political parties don't have ballot slots that they can nominate for. They're not allowed to do things like collect petition signatures for candidates. They also have little interest. The parties may not be involved, but most people do know which candidates are affiliated with which party. So the Democratic Party isn't much interested, since the party itself is more or less a shoo-in, and the Republican Party considers Denver to be a lost cause.

As a result, currently all 15 of those elected positions are held by either Democrats or independents. Independents can win here because they can get on the ballot. In fact, you could easily argue that it is not difficult enough to get on the ballot here. All you need is 300 valid signatures from registered voters that are also Denver residents.

As a result, we usually have around a dozen candidates for mayor each election cycle. Not nearly as many people run for city auditor, clerk and recorder, or any of the City Council seats, though, which I have always thought kind of odd. I have been kicking myself for the past few weeks. We had our election in May, and my City Councilman ran unopposed.

I could have collected 300 valid signatures. I've done more than that before for other candidates and initiatives. But I didn't. I'm really going to have to remember when 2015 comes around.

The results aren't perfect, and big money interests (largely real estate developers in this neck of the woods) still have outsized influence. But the government is more responsive to its constituents than most. Public pressure has resulted in cancelled subsidies and tax breaks. Walmart wouldn't even try to build a store here. Their only location inside the city is an abandoned K-Mart near the city limits.

Individual residents and neighborhood groups alike have pressured the city into abandoning road projects that would hurt greenspace (we have a huge park system). Convinced the city to restrict traffic in residential neighborhoods with lower speed limits, 4 way stops, and single lane one-way streets.

A lot of things that the big money would rather not see.

Of course, nobody gets their entire wish list delivered to them on a silver platter. For one thing, everybody has their own personal wish list. For another, you just can't get rid of cronyism, nepotism, and lobbying altogether. If it can exist in this political party free government, then it can exist anywhere.

We have definite problems with our police force, which is made more difficult by the fact that the Chief of Police, County Sheriff (Denver is both a city and a county, and the Sheriff's Department runs the jails and provides court security) and Manager of Safety are all appointed positions.

Even then, we managed to get City Council to establish a citizen's review board that has actually resulted in changes to disciplinary procedures within the department.

Our new mayor, Michael Hancock, (former mayor John Hickenlooper gave it up and ran for governor instead last year, so he's now known as Governor Hickenlooper) is a Democrat, but not one in much favor within the Party, who backed a different candidate.

In short, all political parties, from the Democrats to the Libertarians, can take a flying leap when it comes to our municipal government. They're not allowed to screw with it, haven't been able to exert much control, and have apparently given up their efforts to change it by state law.

Nonpartisan government is no panacea. But it does help to take a lot of the improper influences out of the government. It's also cool to see a ballot with no "R", "D" or even "I" nest to the names of the candidates.
One big drawback is the majority vote requirement. The ease of ballot access pretty much guarantees a runoff. But no primaries, the election was in May, and the runoff in June.
So today, our new mayor is already fighting with the same city council that he was president of just a few months ago. Transitions are quick with no party involvement.

I know that there are other jurisdictions around the country that have the same or similar electoral systems. I'm pretty sure that there are no states that do it, but it isn't impossible to get it instituted, or else I would be writing about theory instead of experience. We didn't adopt it here until the 1960's. It came about in response to accusations that the Democratic Party was dominating the city government.  It was.

Since both parties are pretty resistant to this idea, it must be put in place by citizen initiative. So stop complaining about the parties and big money, and do something about it. Get those petitions ready. Be prepared to get a lot more signatures than required, since your Secretary of State will probably try to throw out as many signatures as possible.

This is an issue that crosses ideological lines. You will find both Fox News watchers and John Stewart fans that support this idea. But someone has to take action. That someone could be you. It could be me. I've been mulling over the thought of getting something like this on our statewide ballot.

After all, you have freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, but you do not have a right to a political party recognized, sanctioned, and favored by the government.