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Gridlock at Home 

The results of the election suggest an increasingly partisan Coeur d'Alene.

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Partisan creep is moving in on non-partisan territory and threatens to wreak havoc on our good government. I am angry and very sad for Coeur d’Alene.

In the just-concluded, by-law-nonpartisan city elections in Kootenai County, the Reagan Republicans won all the races they invested time and dollars in. Shamelessly, they pulled out all the stops on their party machine and played all the negative cards in their hands.

Is there anything wrong with their game plan to insert partisan politics into local nonpartisan elections, practically, politically and/or ethically? I say a loud “yes” to all of the above. It’s not just a question of changing the rules in the middle of the game (although that rankles, too). There are longstanding reasons why some elected positions are historically and appropriately nonpartisan.

The election of judges, for instance, has in recent years been tainted by partisanship. Our judicial system rises or falls on the stature of the judges we hire to uphold the rules of law that we claim we live by. Judges should be chosen based on their qualifications, which includes their experience, intelligence, integrity and work ethic. Neither party, Republican or Democrat, has a hold on any of these qualities. Partisanship should play no part in the selection of judges.

City elections have always been nonpartisan for many of the same reasons. They provide an opportunity for citizens to come together to choose the individuals they believe are most qualified and most responsible to lead a city into the future. Heads unfuzzied by partisan pressures have a better chance of making intelligent choices.

Genuine nonpartisanship turns everyone into an independent voter, free from partisan bias and only concerned about who can do the best job. One-third of Idaho voters claim no party allegiance and have no patience with partisan politics.

In the case of our recently concluded city election in Coeur d’Alene, the Reagan Republicans had been whipped into a high fury about the proposal to upgrade the downtown city property at McEuen Field. The proposal, put together by a team of citizens working through the previous summer, would transform the city parking lot by the lake into a green and people-friendly space filled with options for residents and visitors to enjoy.

A faction of Reagan Republicans took up opposing the plan to create McEuen Park, criticizing almost every aspect of the citizen’s committee work. Their battle cry has been a demand for a public vote in a veiled attempt to sidetrack development of the park. I’ve written of my excitement about the emerging McEuen Park, perhaps tediously. I long for the day when that exquisite lakeside property, now covered with asphalt, is part of a park, not a parking lot.

Former state representative George Sayler ran for the open City Council seat. George has all the qualities you would want in an elected official. Years of teaching political science in Coeur d’Alene High School, years of service in the Idaho House of Representatives. Intelligent, conscientious, a known and respected public servant. When asked at a meeting of the Reagan Republicans who he supported for president, his very appropriate response was, “What connection does that have with the city election?”

Nevertheless, Sayler said he had voted for Obama and would vote for him again. In the last days of the campaign, this exchange came to voters in the form of a postcard, with an unattractive picture of Sayler, side by side with an unappealing (and perhaps darkened) photo of President Barack Obama.

When the votes came in, Sayler was trounced by a wide margin by Books for Dummies author Dan Gookin.

Also losing to the Reagan Republican landslide was incumbent John Bruning, who chaired the Coeur d’Alene Planning Commission for decades. As president of the Coeur d’Alene Board of St. Vincent DePaul, Bruning has been responsible for partnering the city with St. Vinnie’s to create the HELP office. The former city library has been turned into a one-stop shop for needy or homeless people seeking help in finding shelter, food or a job. Bruning has also been charged with chairing the committee to save the trees on the North Idaho College dike from the Army Corps of Engineers’ plan to cut them down.

Bruning lost his re-election bid to Steve Adams, an insurance salesman who has, so far, said nothing positive about the city whose future he will help plot as a member of the City Council.

So I’m a bad loser. But I find the mountain of misinformation circulated about the City of Coeur d’Alene to be very offensive and downright mean. The mayor, City Council and staff are doing an amazing job of turning Coeur d’Alene into a beautiful, vibrant, environmentally green, art-loving city.

Congress is showing us how extreme partisanship leads to extreme gridlock. Let’s not accentuate the negative, or copy-cat Congress. Partisanship has its place in nominating candidates and developing policy. Nonpartisan races leave the voters free to vote for the candidate, not the party.

Let's cut the partisan creep.

Mary Lou Reed lives in Coeur d’Alene. Her column appears here once a month.

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