OFFBEAT: We've got it good in Erie County

As I write these words, there are six candidates running for two seats on the Board of Erie County Commissioners. Three are Democrat
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010

As I write these words, there are six candidates running for two seats on the Board of Erie County Commissioners. Three are Democrats and three are Republicans.

That would seem to suggest, at least as far as county commissioner elections are concerned, the two-party system is alive and well in Erie County.

Control of the board of commissioners swung during the 2006 elections from two Republicans to two Democrats.

The best-case scenario for Republicans this year is that they'll win both elections and capture two seats. The best case for Democrats is they'll hold all three seats.

The fact neither party has a lock on the county commission is good for Erie County voters. Corruption and misspending of public funds generally is more likely when one party can't serve as a watchdog upon the other.

Partisan balance isn't the only kind of balance that counts on a government body.

Sparky Weilnau, a previous commissioner, liked to point out that he was well-attuned to the interests of rural resident. Monaghan is the only current commissioner who lives in Sandusky. Linda Miller-Moore, one of the Democrats notes she can ensure the board will still have a woman after Nancy McKeen leaves at the end of this year.

Still, I think partisan balance, or at least the real possibility of it, is very useful. If you think one-party government isn't so bad, try living under it.

Until recently, all of us did. Until the 2006 elections, which saw Democrats capturing control of the U.S. House, the Republican Party controlled the executive branch, both houses of Congress and the most important component of the judiciary, the U.S. Supreme Court.

As even many Republicans admit, the party's track record in recent years hasn't been great. Congress exercised little oversight of the executive branch and wildly overspent. The president's performance in dealing with national issues has not been impressive, either.

I'm certainly not suggesting that Democrats do well with unchecked power.

I live in Cuyahoga County, where the Dems hold all three positions on the county commission and elect Cleveland's mayor every four years. According to The Plain Dealer, Cuyahoga County residents pay the highest property taxes in the state.

The county's sales tax rate already was the highest in Ohio, too, even before the county commissioners added a quarter-cent sales tax hike to build a new convention center and a "medical mart." There's been little progress in getting the project off the ground, but the tax hike kicked in last fall, just in time for Christmas.

Commissioners didn't bother to put the tax hike before the voters.

In theory, opponents of the tax hike could circulate petitions forcing a vote on the increase.

But it's difficult to collect the necessary signatures without having lots of special interest cash. The ad hoc coalition that fought the tax increase were unable to get the measure on the ballot.

Making the elections work hasn't been a top priority in Cuyahoga County until very recently. Long delays and confusion are common. Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner is trying to fix the problems by the March 4 primary, but she may not have enough time.

It's interesting to compare life in Cuyahoga County with the way things are done here. Elections are handled efficiently in Erie County, without a lot of fuss and bother. And the commissioners have been careful to hold down spending and to include the wishes of voters when tax hikes are being considered.