September 24: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on local politics:

Posted: Monday, September 25, 2000

When it became obvious back in 1988 that Pat Robertson wasn't likely to claim the Republican Party's nomination for the presidency, the candidate appealed to his Alaska supporters to enlist in a larger mission.

File for local office, seek seats on school boards, municipal assemblies and councils, Robertson advised Alaskans, urging them to rebuild government from the ground up applying the same values he attempted to carry into the White House.

We are not suggesting here that Pat Robertson originated the idea -- or even remains a driving force -- in local efforts to apply partisan philosophies to municipal issues. We cite the message of Robertson's 1988 conference call with state supporters to make the point that partisan initiatives in local contests aren't radical, or particularly new to Alaska.

It's apparent from the stir caused by recent fund-raisers for a Republican slate of assembly candidates, however, that not everyone is comfortable with the idea of injecting party rivalries into the municipal election mix.

Critics of the trend warn that labeling local office seekers as Republicans or Democrats could make it even tougher for the winners to set their personal differences aside and join together working for the public good.

There's much to be said for that argument.

But it would be foolish to pretend partisanship has never before intruded upon local elections. Many times over the years Fairbanks has hosted elections involving local candidates closely tied to the Republican or Democratic camps, backed by industry or union blocs and other special-interest groups.

In recent years, we have seen several examples of locally elected officials taking prominent stands in races for governor and other state offices. On one infamous occasion, the Borough Assembly issued a near-unanimous endorsement for Democrat Claudia Douglas in her race against Rep. Al Vezey, then a Republican lawmaker from North Pole.

Hearing numerous complaints about the recent GOP activity on behalf of municipal candidates, Borough Clerk Mona Drexler consulted the election laws. She found nothing in the borough's code that mandates nonpartisan campaigns for local office. While state statutes provide great detail on the role of political parties and how affiliations are to be treated on the ballot, the clerk said, ''The law is completely silent on municipal elections.''

All this means is you won't see party affiliations listed on the municipal ballots. It doesn't stop any party from declaring support for a local candidate, or slate of local candidates.

It's open to debate whether such partisanship bodes well for municipalities, school boards, cooperatives and other local organizations.

Voters simply will have to apply their own judgment to this legal, if for somewhat disturbing, partisan trend.

For better or worse, partisanship appears to be taking root.


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