Opinions

Logan’s Prop. 1 stand shows power of city’s nonpartisan elections

It took many of us in the political world by surprise when conservative mayoral candidate Rebecca Logan went on the record with the Anchorage Daily News that she opposes Prop. 1, the effort brought by Alaska Family Council leader Jim Minnery to repeal the portion of Anchorage's non-discrimination ordinance that protects our transgender friends and neighbors.

After all, Logan says she is a conservative's conservative and is already endorsed by the Alaska Republican Party, so many wondered aloud why she would so visibly break ranks with the religious right on what looks to be the defining issue of this campaign season.

Won't this cost Logan votes on the far right? Doesn't this hurt her appeal to the base?

Those are logical thoughts, and might be perfectly valid in normal state or national elections, but in a local election in Anchorage in 2018 her decision makes perfect sense. The reasons why tell you exactly why Anchorage's elections are awesome.

[Rebecca Logan: Crime is out of hand in Anchorage. That's why I'm running for mayor]

First of all there is the concept political scientists are calling "negative partisanship." That is the rapidly increasing tendency of all of us to view voting against the party we dislike as more important than the need to like or support the party we vote for.

A few months ago Politico described it this way: "Over the past few decades, American politics has become like a bitter sports rivalry, in which the parties hang together mainly out of sheer hatred of the other team, rather than a shared sense of purpose."

In this modern environment, candidates like Logan know they don't have to worry about losing likely voters from their fringes because the outright hatred of the alternative will always bring them begrudgingly back into the fold; just ask Hillary Clinton.

The second good reason Logan can go No on 1 is how Anchorage's local elections are structured. Unlike state and national elections, Anchorage's local elections have no government-funded partisan primaries or party labels on the ballot. All candidates are simply listed and voters choose from among them.

[Rebecca Logan files for mayor, challenging Berkowitz]

Because this is a primary-free, nonpartisan race Logan doesn't need to make it through a "who is the most conservative conservative" gauntlet in a GOP primary, so she doesn't need to appeal to small fringe groups like Minnery's to get the majority of a fraction of a fraction of voters in order to even get on the ballot.

Anchorage elections also don't have party labels on the ballot, which in Alaska greatly helps Republicans due to their almost 2-1 voter registration advantage over Democrats.

Sure, well-informed voters are likely to know where they think Logan and the mayor are on the ideological spectrum and vote against whichever they don't like, but a great many lower information voters won't and there will be nothing on the ballot to help them deploy their negative partisanship.

No party labels means Logan has to define herself and her opponent directly. That is where her Prop. 1 opposition makes so much sense.

She has to play for 50 percent+1 of voters, and to do that she can't take a position right out of the gate that defines her as uncompassionate, hateful, or divisive, the way supporting Prop. 1 and Minnery would have.

So as you can see, Logan's tack to the left on Prop. 1 actually makes perfect sense. It also explains why Minnery can't find anyone else to be his standard bearer in a race as important as mayor of Anchorage.

Fringe groups like Minnery's who wage war on women, LGBT folks, and pretty much anyone who is different than them need political structures like partisan primaries and negative partisanship to live and breathe. They can only survive when candidates rise by getting fractions of support from within political parties and the ballot tells their supporters who to hate.

When candidates can make it to a ballot freely, and can be judged in their own right, we see what we saw with Rebecca Logan, candidates choosing to define themselves based on what unites us as a community rather than playing to what divides us into small voting segments motivated to vote against our enemies rather for one another.

I know far fewer of us will vote in our local election than the big state and national ones and it won't get nearly the same media attention, but Logan just showed us all why we should appreciate all of the reasons why Anchorage's local elections are actually better.

Casey Reynolds grew up in Anchorage where he graduated from Bartlett High School and the University of Alaska Anchorage. He has been a blogger and radio talk show host and currently serves as the communications director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser.