Without naming any local names, here are some considerations:
1. Individual party affiliation is not an immutable characteristic. Nor is it determined for us. People choose to affiliate with a political party…or to not align with any political party.
2. When people decide to join, or vote for candidates belonging to, a political party, they do so because they feel a certain kinship with the values associated with that organization. In some cases, the attachment is strong; while for some, the connection is more attenuated.
3. In the United States, today, there is a strong correlation between ideology (conservative, moderate, liberal) and party registration (Republican, Democratic, etc…). There are few conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans left, compared to the size of those blocs from the New Deal era to the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Of course, voters can be conservative on some issues and liberal on others.
4. So, when a candidate seeks public office, even one in a non-partisan election, I believe it is important to understand their worldview and how this might impact their policy decisions. Part of a candidate’s worldview is expressed through their political beliefs and activities. If they support Presidential Candidate X or Senate Candidate Y, it is fair game to ask, “Why?”
5. Let’s ground this a bit more. Say I am a progressive Democrat and I reside in Howard County. Let’s further assume that Board of Education Candidate Z is a Republican who, in 2016, supports Donald Trump for President. Now, my first inclination is try to understand their policy stances on a host of matters that pertain to the office they seek. What do they think about school choice and vouchers? What are their opinions regarding the role of the Federal Government in K – 12 Education? What is their perspective on Common Core (this issue having far less of a right/left split than others)? And so on…These are the most salient questions, given the office.
6. That said, I think it is legitimate to ask Candidate Z, respectfully, "Who do you support for President and why?" I would feel the same way if Howard County were 90% Democratic or 90% Republican.
7. Now Candidate Z has the option of not responding. That said, I think it’s a within-the-bounds question. The voters get to select what is important, not the candidates. A non-response allows voters to fill-in-the-blanks, and this rarely works to the benefit of the candidate.
8. If Candidate Z says that they like Donald Trump because of his immigration proposals, for example, I might want to dig deeper to determine precisely what he or she likes about them. The idea here is not to play gotcha, but to get a handle on how they perceive the world, as well as their judgment and critical thinking processes. These are all relevant calculations when it comes to electing someone to the Board of Education, bearing in mind the responsibilities of that position.
9. Ultimately, it is the job of the Candidate Z (who, it should be noted, chose to seek public office) to communicate their values to us, the electorate. The Candidate may not like the rough-and-tumble of political life, but that, my friends, is hard cheese.
10. The key here is respectful dialogue. I am not going to point out any recent examples of civil or non-civil conversations. Something tells me everyone can locate these readily. My point being is that we don't need to bring the national vitriol into our local discourse. And that, I believe, is the truest distillation of Howard County Values.
Stay tuned, as more will follow.