It's important that city races are nonpartisan


As the presidential contest and races for Congress and the Oregon Legislature hit full throttle, we are immersed in partisan politics. Elephants and donkeys adorn campaign mailings and editorial cartoons.

With all this political party activity surrounding us, it’s good to be reminded that Lake Oswego’s city elections are nonpartisan. No one runs for mayor or city council as a Democrat or Republican.

It’s also good to understand why our city charter provides for nonpartisan elections. Unlike the Congress and Legislature, the issues faced by city council are local and practical. Ideological posturing is unhelpful when the question is how to deliver services like parks, libraries, water and public safety.

Nonpartisanship is important to the internal dynamics within the city council. In a partisan body, members are often pressured to vote as their party wishes. I served three terms in the Oregon Legislature, where the party caucuses meet frequently to urge positions on their members. Independence there is discouraged whenever party leaders believe an issue might affect its prospects at the next election.

With a nonpartisan city council, the members are free to consider each issue on its own merits. That means all members are potentially persuadable on any question coming before the council.

There are forces in Lake Oswego that seem determined to make our local politics partisan. They seek to divide us by bringing party labels into the debate over city issues. If these forces succeed, it will be that much more difficult to restore civility to our civic life, a leading theme of my campaign for mayor of Lake Oswego.

This does not mean that advocacy groups organized around issues should refrain from publicly endorsing candidates. Such endorsements help members of the group understand which candidates will advance its goals. But voters should be selective in how they view this input. A candidate who gains a group’s endorsement by promising action on a narrow set of issues will not necessarily act in the broader interests of the community.

Since launching my campaign for mayor early this year I have been walking the neighborhoods to speak with residents at their doorsteps. I contact people of all political perspectives. This door-to-door campaign has been invaluable in helping me understand the concerns of the community. As mayor I must work for everyone, not just those of one party or political point of view.

Some candidates for city office this year contend that a majority of the current council has acted contrary to the desires of the people. This contention assumes that the citizens of Lake Oswego are of one mind. Having spoken with thousands of them at their doorsteps this year, I can say emphatically that is not the case. Candidates should draw from the diverse viewpoints in the community to form sound decisions.

Occasionally in a doorstep conversation the resident asks my party affiliation. I answer the question because this information may be helpful to their decision by indicating my general philosophy about public issues.

But voters should also consider the independent judgment of a candidate. Lake Oswego needs thoughtful leaders who will give each issue careful attention.

Greg Macpherson is a former state representative for District 38 and candidate for mayor of Lake Oswego.