Leader Blues

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

TOP STORY >>Cabot candidates to be nonpartisan

Leader staff writer

A resolution requiring all candidates for office in Cabot to run as independents in 2008 passed the city council with a 5-2 vote Monday over the strong objections of area Republicans.

By the next day, Republican leaders were considering circulating a petition calling for a vote of the people to overturn the council decision.

Mark Edwards, a Republican who represents Cabot on the Lonoke County Quorum Court, said Tuesday that he is still researching how many signatures are needed for a referendum. He said the council’s vote clearly did not reflect the wishes of the people they were elected to serve.

The proponents of party elections who spoke during the meeting said voters need to know whether candidates are Republican or Democrat to know whether their values are the same as theirs.

But Alderman Eddie Cook, who sponsored the resolution calling for non-partisan elections, said the Cabot council never deals with the issues like abortion and homosexuality. Instead of looking for the “R” or “D” beside a candidate’s name, voters should get to know the candidates, he said.

North Lonoke County is predominantly Republican, so Republican candidates are the most likely to be elected. Cook said in support of his resolution that without getting to know the candidates, it’s impossible to determine their values.

“What’s to keep everybody in the next election from running as Republicans?” he asked.

Some Republicans in Lonoke County are members of both the Lonoke County Republican Committee and the more conservative Republican Assembly, two groups that have not always seen eye to eye.

Vince Scarlatta, who introduced himself as first vice-chairman of the committee and a board member of the assembly, told the council that they might be surprised to learn that both groups want partisan elections.

Scarlatta said when a candidate is identified with a party, voters know their core values. Without the checks and balances of a multi-party system, elected officials can do what they want, he said, and prevailed upon Mayor Eddie Joe Williams to use his influence “to not let this happen.”

Bill “Pete” Pedersen, who lost his bid for mayor to Williams in 2006 during the Republican primary, alluded to Williams’ veto power when he asked, “Where do you stand, Mr. Mayor?”

“I don’t have a voice in this matter,” Williams responded, adding, “If the city puts up the right people, it won’t matter if they are an ‘R’ or a ‘D’ or an ‘I.’”

Aldermen Becky Lemaster and Teri Miessner, both Republicans, voted against the resolution. Lemaster said voters needed to know which candidates to align themselves with.

“We cannot take that tool away from those voters for any reason,” Lemaster said.

Miessner agreed and added that she thought the resolution failed to make it out of the budget and personnel committee, which meant it should not have gone before the full council, she said.

Although the city council passed an ordinance in January referring legislation to three different committees before it goes before the full council, City Attorney Jim Taylor said it did not prohibit council members from bringing any ordinance before the full council.

“They are the council people and they have that ability,” Taylor said.

Lemaster made the last statement after the resolution for non-partisan elections passed.

“What I have witnessed is an absolute abuse of office,” she said. “The people have spoken and we didn’t listen.” The next morning she turned in a request to the city attorney for an ordinance doing away with the council committees.

“That resolution died in committee and had no business being forwarded (to the full council),” she said. “We’ve proven they don’t work and we need to do away with them.”