Raleigh, N.C. — The Republican majority in the House approved a bill Thursday calling for partisan elections for Sanford City Council and the Lee County Board of Elections.
House Bill 490 normally would have required only a voice vote because it was local legislation, but opponents demanded a roll call vote after unsuccessfully trying to shout down supporters. The bill passed on a 69-38 vote and heads to the Senate.
Rep. Deb McManus, D-Chatham, whose district includes part of Sanford, said the bill, which was filed Monday, blindsided members of the school board and Sanford council.
Sanford Mayor Cornelia Olive, Councilman Sam Gaskins and school board member Tamara Brogan all spoke against the bill Wednesday during a House Elections Committee hearing, saying partisan politics have no role in education policy or filling potholes.
"This is state government telling municipalities what they have to do when they strongly object to doing that," McManus said.
Bill sponsor Rep. Mike Stone, R-Lee, said people around the county have asked for years for partisan local elections.
"I support those boards, but ultimately we represent the citizens," Stone said.
Democrats raised various arguments against the bill, such as the added cost of holding party primaries and that the Hatch Act would prevent people in the military from running for a partisan office.
In the end, however, the issue came down to a debate between government transparency and the desire to keep schools above the partisan fray.
"There is no such thing as a nonpartisan election," said Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven. "Everyone is still running as a Republican or as a Democrat. The only ones who don't know what (candidates) actually are are the people who have to cast the ballots."
"Partisan politics have no place on a board of education," McManus said. "I don't think knowing a person's party membership will tell you what they're going to do to close achievement gaps or to improve conditions for students or teachers."