Ask an Official: County clerk discusses partisanship of elected positions
This week’s featured question was submitted for Lincoln County Clerk Chris Marlowe
The question reads:
“I’m kind of confused about some county election positions being forced to pick a side in politics and some aren’t. Like recently, both sheriff’s candidates ran as republicans. And if I remember right the District Attorney also has to pick a side before they can run for the election. But county board members, who call all the shots at meetings, don’t have to pick a side. Why is that? Everyone in state and national government have to pick a side but county boards and city councils don’t? But DA’s and sheriffs do? Why not police chiefs? It just seems backwards to me. Thanks.”
Answer as given by Marlowe:
“These are very good questions!
“The easy answer is that all of these elected positions are defined by state statute. Now as to why some are partisan and some are not is a little grey, at least to me. For a history lesson on the evolution of our state government I would suggest a Wisconsin State History Professor or your local library. I will do my best to answer your questions to the best of my knowledge. It is completely up to the candidate as to what party they decide to run under. The advantage to running under a party that is recognized by the state is that if you win that party’s primary you will appear on the ballot with that party’s name attached to your candidacy. The advantage to this is that voters who share the beliefs of a particular party will vote for the candidate in the party they align themselves with.
“Lincoln County, historically, leans to the side of the conservatives or the Republican Party. This would explain why candidates are more likely to choose the Republican Party when seeking an office if they have not previously been a member of a party. The winner of the Republican Primary stands the best chance of winning the General Election. Basic math will suggest that the reason Republican candidates are more likely to win is that there are more Republican voters than Democrats. This is probably the main reason candidates tend to be Republicans here in Lincoln County. In my opinion, or observation, it is the local governing boards and councils that are pardoned from declaring a political party. This most likely is for a good reason. The elected officials that are making local decisions, should be making these decisions solely based on the needs of their constituents without political party influence.
“To be quite honest, I do not know why county elected officials are partisan. There are many county officials statewide that question this. County officials do not have voting rights which leads me to my theory on why our local decision makers are not partisan. Another advantage at the State and Federal level of being a candidate for a political party is that there is party money available for campaigns. Each of our political parties have unique views of how government should work. The more candidates a party has at the state and federal level will dictate if their party agenda or ideas come to fruition. Lastly, counties are divisions of the state. County business is clearly defined by state statute which explains the similarities to county and state elected officials.
“Municipalities have much less direction from the state and are, in many cases, able to govern as they see fit. This is why most of their offices are appointed. Appointed officials, such as Police Chief, should not be appointed based on political views and do not have to declare a party. Thank you for the question. Again, this is more my opinion or interpretation than fact. State Statutes in general are based on one’s interpretation and are often argued in court.”
Have a question or concern you would like to address? Simply send your question or concern to firstname.lastname@example.org along with an indication of which entity your question or concern pertains to. Current participants are the Merrill Police Department, Merrill Fire Department, Tomahawk Police Department, Merrill City Administrator Dave Johnson, Lincoln County Administrative Coordinator Jason Hake, Merrill Area Housing Authority Director Paul Russell, Lincoln County Clerk Chris Marlowe, Lincoln county Forestry, Land and Parks Director Kevin Kleinschmidt, local DNR Conservation Warden Curt Butler and Merrill Area Public Schools (MAPS) Superintendent Dr. John Sample. Please note: Those who submit to the ‘Ask an Official’ feature remain anonymous.