Monday, July 23, 2012

Nonpartisan politics died today in Norman.

As a teacher, I thrive on collaboration and cooperation. I feel uncomfortable with confrontation...always have. So, I appreciated the nonpartisan stance of local politics in Norman. City offices, School Board, City Council, and Judicial races are to be nonpartisan. In fact, on the papers to file as a candidate, the line where other candidates declare their party is deliberately left blank.

In the last City Council election, after a primary, things got ugly. Robocalls by a local Republican state Representative, and a last-minute flyer paid for by the Cleveland County GOP Political Action Committee declared one of the candidates as the 'only conservative' Republican candidate. Other nasty things were said,  and I'm not even aware of how vile allegations got...

A friend, Cindy Cason, filed a formal complaint, and I went to the Election Commission meeting today to hear the discussion. The complaint was investigated, the City Attorney attended and gave the Commission its opinion. 

Nonpartisan politics in Norman died today. My notes follow: 

Election Commission 7/23/12

In the opinion of the City Attorney, Jeff Bryant,  the flyer in support of Williams, sent by the Cleveland County GOP PAC is not a violation of the City Charter…since the CC GOP PAC paid for the flyer ($1000), Williams did not violate the nonpartisan spirit of the Charter. His payment for the robo-call from Scott Martin was, likewise, seen as no violation, since Mr. Williams says Martin never identified himself as a politician and Republican.

The nonpartisan requirements in Council elections only apply to the candidates and their actions within the process. In their filing papers, the line for party affiliation is deliberately left blank. They are to conduct a nonpartisan campaign, but nothing stops others, working to elect the candidates to identify with partisan politics. So, the candidates are to be nonpartisan, but nothing stops other citizens bringing partisan politics into the race.

Questions about this issue have come up several times before Cindy Cason’s formal complaint, but it seems as if it’s here to stay.

City Council, School Board and Judicial races are SUPPOSED to be nonpartisan.

Ty Hardiman, the Commission Chair spoke eloquently – I’m paraphrasing…
He fears the polarized, deadlocked precedent of national partisan politics and is disappointed that it has seeped into city politics. He believes identifying candidates for local positions as Democrat or Republican is not helpful for voters. He acknowledges that people are fighting to end the nonpartisan elections in Norman. He doesn’t want to see a national agenda in place for local elections, and doesn’t believe anything good will come of this.

All points in Cindy’s complaint were dismissed, including the conflict of interest.

The robo-call by Scott Martin was discussed, and Mr. Williams said his campaign would pay that cost -- $75. He asserted that Rep. Martin did not identify himself as a Republican elected politician, and was calling ‘for a friend.’ As such, it passes the nonpartisan test for the campaign.

While there are limits on contributions to candidates, the CC GOP PAC work was NOT a contribution to Williams’ campaign, but an expenditure…the flyer cost the PAC $1000.

The Commission also discussed the timing of the CC GOP expenditure report. Supposedly, these are to be filed before the election, and as such, would have shown the $1000 investment in a nonpartisan race. But the report was late. The GOP was fined as per the charter. Someone wondered what the GOP “got away with.”  Mr. Spaulding was in attendance and said it was an honest mistake and he had faced embarrassment.
Mr. Hardiman acknowledged that at least the CC GOP PAC was identified as the originator of the flyer…he spoke of other ‘mystery mailers’ from past campaigns.

My questions:
  1. 1.       What does the CC GOP hope to gain from its $1000 investment in Mr. Williams’ campaign? Will his vote be theirs?
  2. 2.       Was the late filing a way to postpone the public’s discovery of the PAC’s investment?
  3. 3.       What would the voters have done if they realized the GOP was interfering in a nonpartisan election?
  4. 4.       How does this change the landscape of Norman’s City Council?
  5. 5.       Is this the first time a political PAC has invested in a particular City Council election?
  6. 6.       What, if anything, should the public make of the fact that the head of the CC GOP PAC is a personal friend of the new City Council Member?