The steaming mess in our nation’s capital demonstrates all the worst features of the two-party system. Discussions and debates come down to one single letter, the R or D at the end of a legislator’s name.
At the local level, political parties make even less sense. Our county offices have almost nothing to do with ideology, but candidates register as Dems or Repubs, and their respective parties go to outrageous lengths to “support” their candidates.
I don’t have space here to recap the sickening attack on democracy that we saw in Carroll County in the past 10 years. Local Repubs spent thousands of dollars to attack Circuit Clerk Ramona Wilson because she stood up for the people of the county against a renegade circuit judge. That judge, of course, had an R after his name.
That gave the Repubs on quorum court all the motivation they needed to campaign at the table for someone with a more appropriate letter after her name. Voters had no trouble sorting out their decision (Wilson yes, renegade Republican judge no), but that didn’t keep the Repubs from spending ridiculous amounts of money and perverting the function of the quorum court. They continued to relentlessly push their candidate even after a staggering 60-40 percent loss.
We face a situation much less outrageous this November, but the same mechanisms still operate. County Judge Sam Barr and County Clerk Jamie Correia have each served for 10 years, but they both face challenges because they spell their names with a D at the end. The county clerk doesn’t have a lot of political exposure, but the county judge does, and voters have elected Barr five times, in a heavily Republican county. Barr’s last victory came by a lopsided margin over Charlie Reece, an attractive candidate with an excellent track record as mayor of Green Forest.
When Reece first considered running against Barr four years ago, party officials cautioned him not to make the county roads a campaign issue. Although the county judge has some other executive functions, his primary responsibility lies with the county roads. Since the Repubs have no complaints with the roads, or with Barr’s overall performance, they had to deliberate long and hard to come up with a catchy slogan for Reece’s campaign: “Time For a Change!”
I should note here that Charlie Reece might make a fine county judge. He has worked some major miracles in Green Forest. He might do just about as well with the roads, especially if he keeps the current outstanding Road Department intact. And Connie Doss might do as good a job at county clerk as Jamie Correia has, but I don’t know how she could do any better.
Other than state auditors, few people have had the opportunities I’ve had to poke around in the county clerk’s office. I’ve asked for old quorum court minutes, campaign contributions for local candidates, and other obscure items. They keep track of a bewildering amount of information in there, and they always find whatever I need. It takes some creativity, given their space limitations, but they make it look easy.
The county clerk has nothing to do with policy or politics. Everything in that office focuses on routine, and those routines have to work every time. So what possible interest could a political party have in working so hard and spending so much money to replace the incumbent? Call it a coincidence, but she did just overrule the Repub-controlled Election Commission when she replaced the archaic printed registry books at the polls with laptops. We hired her to make that decision, and she decided on the basis of what she thought best for all the people of Carroll County.
Whether you consider yourself an R or a D or an independent, party politics costs us all. I’m considering a lawsuit to challenge spending tax dollars on primary elections, which serve only limited groups of people. I’ll return to this subject in the future, but think about it in the meantime: we don’t need no stinkin’ primaries!