COMMUNITY COMMENT: The Voting Date Referendum: Remain Independent or Fall Prey to State Party Politics?
By DAVID F. SNYDER
November 1, 2011
The November 8th referendum on voting in Falls Church is about much more than deciding what date to hold local elections; it is about the very democratic system under which we live. Since its creation, the City of Falls Church has held independent, local issue-focused elections that are separate from state and federal elections. This has worked well for the City. Now, however, some people want to change this approach and make our independent-based local political system more like the party-controlled system in Richmond, and even Washington.
There is mounting pressure coming from political machine-dominated Richmond to force local elections and issues onto state or federal Election Days in November, virtually assuring that the two major parties will control the candidates for whom we have the opportunity to vote. So far, the pressure has been in the form of statutes and fines that dissuade localities from continuing to hold local elections in May. However, according to the Washington Post, there is now additional movement to make municipal elections partisan, just as state elections already are, leading to the dysfunctional government we have in Richmond. [See "Virginia Ballots Skimp on Party Affiliation," Metro section, October 26, 2011.]
By moving local elections from May to November, the City would hasten the day when our system would resemble the one in Richmond where two well-heeled, special interest-driven machines determine who our candidates are and require those candidates to adhere to rigid orthodoxies, until one of the parties achieves total dominance. Then that one party effectively selects who is elected, as is the case in the majority of the state legislative districts in Virginia. [See the Washington Post editorial "RIP Democracy in Virginia," October 26, 2011.]
By contrast, citizens in Falls Church currently have a wider selection of candidates for local offices, including a pool of talented federal civil servants who, as a result of the so-called Hatch Act, are prohibited from running for office in partisan elections. Indeed, any resident of Falls Church can run for City Council or School Board because we have independent local elections: just get a relatively small number of signatures of registered voters, and you’re on the ballot. Further, we are probably one of the last few jurisdictions in a major metropolitan area where you don’t have to take out a second mortgage to successfully run for political office or swear allegiance to a political machine and its beliefs. No, here you only need listen to voters, have good ideas, and work hard to be elected and to serve.
Some who argue for November elections would like to believe we can preserve our independence and switch to state or federal-based elections by amending the City’s charter to safeguard non-partisan elections. But such a charter change requires the vote of the General Assembly, the same body that is pushing for more partisanship in local elections. And, a non-partisan clause relies for sponsorship on our own likely new State Senator, Richard L. Saslaw, who as Senate Majority Leader clearly has done well in the Richmond political environment and equally clearly stated his support for November elections in Falls Church.
So the referendum isn’t about just May or November. This vote one week from today is about how we define democracy and opportunities for citizen involvement in our Falls Church local government. A vote for May (“No” to the referendum) will help preserve true independence, assuring that any of our citizens has a real chance to hold office. A vote for November (“Yes” to the referendum) is a vote that increases the risk of being swept into the machine-driven system in Richmond, where the party apparatus determines who you vote for and demands adherence to party dogma.
David F. Snyder is Vice Mayor of Falls Church City
This is the first in a series of four Community Comments regarding next week’s referendum on moving City elections from May to November. The four commentaries include two opponents of the change – Vice Mayor David Snyder, and Edie Smolenski, a private citizen active in local civic organizations – and two advocates of the change – City Councilman Lawrence Webb and Robert Loftur-Thun, also a private citizen active in local civic organizations.
Those interested in the referendum also are encouraged to watch the Town Hall programs on FCC-TV. A link to the schedule is available here.
By (see byline)
November 1, 2011