Our new book is titled Divided We Stand: The 2020 Elections and American Politics. Among other things, it discusses state and local elections.
Brooke Staggs & Alicia Robinson at the OC Register
In theory, elections for dozens of city, county and regional posts are legally nonpartisan in Orange County, with ballots that don’t include party labels next to candidates’ names.
The reasoning is — or, rather, was — that local races are about local issues. Fixing potholes and keeping clean water flowing to your house are government functions that work best when they’re not subject to the kind of partisan haggling that comes with issues like gun control and abortion rights.
And voters used to go along with that. A generation ago, it would have been unheard of for a resident of, say, Irvine, to ask a council candidate knocking at the door about their party affiliation, said Randall Avila, spokesman for the Republican Party of Orange County.
No more. As Orange County’s demographics have changed, and as Democrats have grown in power in a county once dominated by Republicans, party politics and party affiliation are becoming increasingly big factors in local races.
Arguably, lingering “don’t ask, don’t tell” rules about party affiliation in local races might have helped Republicans in recent years. Even though registered Democrats have outnumbered registered Republicans in the county since 2019, the GOP has held its long-standing majorities in most local jurisdictions. Republicans now hold nearly 55% of county and local seats while Democrats hold just over 33%.
But with party labels increasingly attached to candidates in nonpartisan races, and with county voters leaning leftward, the GOP edge is slipping. Democrats are winning more seats on city councils, school boards, and library, sanitation and other special district boards,
“At the local level last year, we took 20 seats from Republicans,” said Ada Briceño, chair of the Democratic Party of Orange County. Those wins, she added, extended into traditionally GOP communities such as San Clemente and Fountain Valley.