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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

Running the Realm of Red & Blue in Nonpartisan Elections

Texas tradition (and a law, here and there) has held that municipal elections in the state must be nonpartisan. In other words, you cannot have Democrat or Republican (or any party, for that matter) next to your name on the ballot. City Council and mayoral candidates have had to walk the fine line of non-partisanship while maintaining their own party allegiances in the background for quite some time. The major parties have also maintained official impartiality regarding candidates in these races. That is, until now.

Texas politics have become quite polarized over the years, with most everyone picking sides in the war between the Red and the Blue. Texas has maintained a large Republican advantage in most areas, until Dallas County’s recent shift to the Democrats in a clean sweep of numerous judge positions, as well as the D.A. and others, in November 2006. The Dallas County Democratic Party has been looking to keep the momentum going, and it would seem that it has entered the previously untouchable realm of nonpartisan city races.

It has been well known that Dallas City Councilman Ed Oakley is a Democrat. But he was not elected on a platform held by any political party. He ran on his own beliefs and merits, as an openly gay man and a business owner. Some of that plays well with people of both parties. But the race for mayor has changed the game. Sam Coats began campaigning on the fact that he was the Democrat in the race this past spring. Councilman Oakley then saw an opening he needed, specifically stating at the North Texas Democratic Women’s mayoral forum that “Mr. Coats is not the only Democrat in this race.” Mr. Oakley then mailed out literature prior to the May election showing Democratic women who signed on in support of him. Another piece also told “Democrats” that we needed to vote in this election, complete with cartoon donkey.

Mr. Oakley gathered enough votes for second place, and was placed in the runoff with Republican backed golden boy Tom Leppert, the leading vote-getter. The fine line being walked has been that it is OK to hang out at the Republican or Democratic clubs and forums and have their support, but not to have any official party support. That all changed in May, when the Dallas County Democratic Party Executive Committee voted to endorse Ed Oakley for Mayor of Dallas, on a resolution pushed forward by Texas Stonewall Democrats President Shannon Bailey. The move was made to show the clear difference between the two candidates, and hopefully swing the Black and Hispanic vote away from Tom Leppert and back to Ed Oakley, since they both seemed to be splitting the vote between them.

Ed Oakley and Tom Leppert have clearly done nothing wrong by accepting endorsements from various entities. (Gary Griffith even went so far as to run a commercial endorsing Rudy Giuliani for President, as an ad for himself for Mayor.) But is it ethical for a party itself to endorse nonpartisan candidates? It may not be illegal, or violate any laws, but it does seem to defeat the purpose of holding nonpartisan elections. As a recent candidate for City Council myself, I saw the benefit of running as a nonpartisan, as well as the benefits of being endorsed by local Democratic clubs at the same time. My opponent enjoyed support from people from both parties, as did I. We were both clearly members of the Democratic and Republican parties. But neither of us ran on a platform of partisan politics. No political parties endorsed us in our race, or any other Council race. Even the Dallas City Charter’s Ethics Rules go so far as to bar sitting nonpartisan City Council members from endorsing partisan candidates. So should it be OK to have the endorsement come from the opposite direction?

Republicans, along with some Democrats, are crying foul with the DCDP endorsement, but maybe the party is onto something. Will this spark other local parties to enter local elections, or possibly even move to hold partisan elections? The dominoes may already be falling in line. Election Day is June 16, so we will soon see whether or not the partisan endorsement plan works and the city sweeps a member of the Blue team into the mayor’s chair in Dallas.

Hill endorsing Leppert

Persuant to my comment that some Democrats aren't happy... Councilman, 3rd place Mayoral candidate, and Democrat Don Hill has endorsed Tom Leppert over Ed Oakley.

Seems not every Dem is on the same page as the county party, as I suggested.


That's, uh... hmmm.

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