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Commentary: Steele: The (local) party should be over

Updated: November 5, 2013 3:36PM



One of the interesting things about politics is the role parties play at different levels of government. If the office is very local, with very specific duties — school boards, for example — they play no role at all.

Even at the municipal level, while the races are technically partisan, the job is more about maintaining the roads and water and sewer systems, providing public safety services, and basic recreational opportunities. And the politics are more about convincing people, on a personal basis, that you can do those things.

At the top of the chain, the federal level, parties are of paramount importance, of course, both as organizations of like-minded politicians aimed at winning elections, and as groupings of like-minded lawmakers in the policy-making process.

Between not mattering at all, on the one hand, and being paramount, on the other, things get more complicated. At the county and state level, parties tend to be

Counties, especially ones like Lake, are generally too large for the sort of retail politicking possible locally, so the party organization is important in campaigning. But at the same time, counties, in their policy-making role, are too small for ideology to play much of a role; their role is much more like a municipality’s.

What we end up with is the party as a collection of politicians aimed at winning elections, but without the ideological “like-mindedness” that gives policy-making some structure and predictability at a national level. So parties are relevant before election day, but not after.

I know Lake County Republicans are certain that our “tax-and-spend” county is the result of the “tax-and-spend” Democratic Party’s control of it, but, as with most levels of government, spending is heavily weighted toward certain activities — in the case of the county, law and order, infrastructure — the big stuff.

The spending that’s decried by many — on too many employees, too many consultants, etc. — is not the budget-breaker it’s sometimes said to be. Excess spending should certainly be cricitized, but I think it’s more the result of one party in control than it is a matter of the Democratic Party in control. When parties exist as electioneering organizations but not as policy-making ones, they tend to take on the racket-like character so many voters rightly despise.

Ideally counties would be more like municipalities. That, ultimately, is up to voters — if they stopped caring about party, so would the politicians.

But politicians (especially Republican ones) continue to push the myth that it matters. The hand-wringing in the county GOP over party unity would be interesting if it mattered in any material way. Why they want to bring all the silliness that’s happening nationally into the local party is beyond me, but their insistence in doing so hinders achievement of their goal — to win office.

Ideology just gets in the way for an organization that wants to elect people to run a county.



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