The Transylvania Times -

Non-partisan School Boards And Judges


February 23, 2017

In May of last year, former state representative Chris Whitmire filed House Bill 1133, which would change the Transylania County Board of Education from a non-partisan to partisan board.

As we noted then, there was no good reason for the change. We have one of the better school systems in the state, and the local Board of Education has functioned well over the last several decades.

No members of the local school board expressed any desire for the board to become partisan. In fact, all of the board members expressed their desire for the board to remain non-partisan. And there was no outcry from the public for the school board to become partisan.

We and others also noted that by making the school board partisan, more than one-third of the county’s registered voters – those who register as Unaffiliated – would not be allowed to serve on the school board.

Unfortunately, legislators often pass local bills without much thought and HB 1133 became law, effective in 2018.

Earlier this month, however, newly-elected state Rep. Cody Henson introduced legislation that would overturn HB 1133 and keep the school board election non-partisan. He is to be commended for keeping a campaign promise and attempting to keep the local school board non-partisan. In the past few days, school board Chair Tawny McCoy and other school board members have expressed their appreciation for Henson’s efforts.

“I believe serving on the Board of Education is about how to best serve our students, not voting on party lines,” said McCoy.

Indeed, in this county, voters for the school board are more concerned about whether or not a candidate wants to consolidate the two high schools more than the candidates’ party affiliation.

We hope state legislators show Henson the same deference they showed Whitmire on this local matter and pass Henson’s bill.

The school board is not the only governmental body that should be non-partisan. District and Superior Court judges also should be non-partisan. Henson, who has sponsored HB 100, said these judgeships should be partisan because “people deserve to have a general idea where their District and Superior court judges stand on many partisan issues.”

What “partisan issues” do Superior and District court judges decide? Isn’t justice supposed to be “blind,” not “partisan”?

The job of judges is to administer the law fairly. Judges are not supposed to make political decisions, at least at the District and Superior Court levels. It is at the appellate level – the state Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court – where judges begin to interpret if lower court cases were handled in accordance with the law. That is where interpretation of the law becomes more predominant and political.

Other supporters of HB 100 say voters do not know enough about judicial candidates and making the races partisan will better inform the voters. But that lumps everyone in one party into one mind set on all opinions, which is not true, or should not be true of judges who are supposed to make their decisions based on reason. If we begin to elect judges for partisan reasons, that will only increase “judicial activism” and undermine faith in the legal system. That is why people seem to have more faith in their local courts than they do the U.S. Supreme Court.

The answer is to involve judges in more candidate forums and question-and-answer publications, much as we do school board members. Then, voters will know what and how judges think.

With today’s apparent hyper-partisanship, it seems as if the most efficient and civil governmental entities are those where an elected official’s party is not a matter of concern, but where voters select candidates based on their experience, qualities and stands on issues. We need less partisanship, not more.


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