Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Confusion on What Partisanship Means

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Confusion on What Partisanship Means

Article excerpt

A funny thing happened on the way to the Sarasota City Commission election as people argued about parties and partisanship in a nonpartisan election.

Some of them became confused, it seems.

Former city commissioner Kelly Kirschner wasn't one of them. Though not running for a seat, he was pulling for his favorites and named them in a robo-call.

Kirschner told voters he supported Eileen Normile and Stan Zimmerman even though he is a Democrat and they are Republicans.

That unusual statement struck me as an obvious case of behaving in a nonpartisan way and making a point about not letting party affiliation be the deciding factor on whom to vote for. You can admire that, or hate it, or not care, but it was clearly a whack at the sort of thinking that demands rigid, lock-step party loyalty at all times.

Whether Kirschner was right about the candidates he preferred is beside the point. But he had a perfect right to make his recommendations and explain them that way.

His picks lost, as it turned out. The city's registered voters continued their tradition of not voting much -- turnout was 18 percent -- but those who did mostly chose Dems Liz Alpert and Shelli Eddie. The city of Sarasota remains almost the only place around here where Democrats often win seats.

But before the voting, accusations were being tossed around by interested parties about who was supposedly violating the spirit of the city's nonpartisan election system. From what I heard and saw in online arguments, some people were obviously not clear on what a nonpartisan election is.

It just means there are no party primaries to choose nominees, and that no candidate's party affiliation is listed on ballots or on campaign signs. No law or custom says voters have to ignore party affiliation or that parties must help keep affiliations a secret. It is not unusual for party organizers to use mailers or phone calls or word-of-mouth to remind members about which candidates are which, partywise.

Anyone can chime in and argue anything, of course, and some seem to think any mention of parties by anyone was wrong. But usually that sort of accusation is aimed at, say, a party organizer urging members to vote for their own party members. …

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