GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The gulf between Democrats and Republicans has seemingly never been wider. But when it comes to your county clerk or your sheriff or your drain commissioner, does a party label even make sense?
State Rep. Ed McBroom — a Republican who represents a piece of the Upper Peninsula near Iron Mountain — has introduced a package of bills to the Michigan legislature that would allow counties to have some of their offices elected on the nonpartisan part of the ballot.
“Why should our sheriff’s and our prosecutors be partisan officers? Why does the county clerk need to be a partisan officer?” McBroom said. “It keeps good people from running and keeps good people from getting elected.”
The idea behind his legislation is to allow more people to run who don’t associate with either party. He said it would also allow people who may vote on one side of the aisle or the other in a primary to have a voice in who ultimately serves in these important local offices.
“The election is taking place entirely in that primary and the person will be unopposed come the general and people get very frustrated with that,” McBroom explained.
Often, he said, the stands taken by the parties at the state or national level have no impact on local posts that don’t make policy and instead are either enforcement or administration.
“You’ll have Democrats or Republicans at the local level who are very different from Democrats or Republicans at the state or national level,” McBroom said. “It can be very frustrating to have to pick a party when you know what that party represents at a state or national level but at the local level it doesn’t represent that, it just represents the best opportunity to get voted in.”
Clerks, prosecutors and sheriffs contacted by 24 Hour News 8 said it is a concept worth exploring but that it would likely face opposition, especially in more urban districts with powerful party machinery.
Outgoing Kent County Drain Commissioner William Byl, who also served as a state legislator, said while the affiliation makes little sense in his position, the party systems are powerful enough to keep McBroom’s idea from being terribly effective for all but the smallest counties.
“Party affiliation does not play a role at all in what we do,” said Ottawa County Clerk Justin Roebuck, who previously served as campaign manager for U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg and on the executive staff of former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land — both Republicans.
He said getting rid of it could improve trust in county government.
“In some ways, I think it would make it more simple process where we weren’t seemingly beholden to a political party organization,” Roebuck said.
There are other concerns.
“It is important for the parties, at a local level, to be able to develop future leaders and for those future leaders to have actually had experience working in administrative roles,” Roebuck said. “Party structure offers assistance for candidates where doing it on your own is a very challenging and very difficult thing.”
But, he said, “I think it deserves consideration.”
The package of bills is before the lame-duck session and is unlikely to get voted on session. McBroom, who is serving his final months as a state representatives, hopes it will be taken up again after the new legislature is seated.
A similar set of bills went nowhere in 2013, but that legislation required the removal of partisan labels. This new set of bills leaves it up to the communities.
The current bills apply to smaller communities, but McBroom says he would be in favor of it applying statewide, leaving it up to each community to decide what is best.
There will be a change in the next primary coming in 2018. The Libertarian Party got enough votes to qualify to be on the ballot for the first time since Ross Perrot was on the ticket in 1996.