Abortion, gay marriage not big commissioner issues
In announcing that he would remain in the Democratic Party, Morgan County Commissioner Jeff Clark felt it necessary to distance himself from many Democrats' positions on certain moral issues.
"I think abortion is wrong and gay marriage is wrong because I believe what's in the Bible," Mr. Clark said.
How's that again? We can't recall county commissioners making official decisions about abortion or gay marriage, so how are these issues relevant to the public office Mr. Clark holds?
The answer is that voters often want to know whether public officials share their values. And — perhaps more so than three or four decades ago when the late George Wallace said there was not "a dime's worth of difference" between Democrats and Republicans — the parties do, generally, represent different philosophies. Republicans, for example, have managed to get the reputation of being against taxes, another issue Mr. Clark mentioned.
Parties serve other purposes. The most obvious is helping people get elected. For the typical candidate, the No. 1 concern in choosing a party is probably which one will get him the most votes.
Once in office, members of the same party have a formal alliance that both helps them work together and makes them natural, preferably friendly, enemies of the other party. They become its critics and skeptics. This tension can be creative as well as destructive — and we've seen both as the Morgan County Commission made its transition from all Democrats to today's situation where Mr. Clark is the only one left. Keeping a minority voice is good for the county.
But getting re-elected depends mostly on how well a county commissioner maintains his roads, spends taxpayers' money, helps manage the county and responds to individual voters' problems and complaints. Most people don't think about abortion and gay marriage when they vote in a County Commission race.