Editorial: County boards can rise above ideological party divisions
Perhaps it is naive to wish that the board vote installing Sandy Hart as Lake County's new board president hadn't been so overwhelmingly partisan, but it is encouraging that Lake County's first Democratic board president in decades did get one Republican vote Monday.
As he had promised in late November, Republican board member Steve Carlson crossed the aisle to join 12 Democrats supporting Hart after Democrats won a majority of seats on the 21-member board in the Nov. 6 election.
"The Democrats have the majority," Carlson said in a story reported by our Russell Lissau. "The Democrats have the right to name the chair. Now is the time for both parties to unite for the benefit of this county. It's now or never."
It would have been nice to see more Republicans share Carlson's cooperative spirit on a vote whose outcome was a foregone conclusion, but we understand that the nature of politics rarely produces an open break with party loyalty. Such blind partisanship, however, can end there at the county level. As Democrats prepare to enjoy unprecedented roles in collar-county policymaking, it is not too naive to expect that management of local affairs will consistently break down according to something other than blue and red teams.
Republican County Board Chairman Dan Cronin reflected that thinking in his remarks at the inauguration Monday of a new DuPage County Board. That 18-member body had just one Democratic member previously. Effective Monday, the number swelled to seven. Cronin saw that as something to appreciate, if not necessarily celebrate.
"As we begin our new chapter in governing, I'm energized both by our achievements and by the challenges that lie ahead," Cronin said. "I believe we can serve as a beacon of good government in a state that sorely needs a compelling example of county government that is responsive and responsible."
While it has been common for most collar counties to be overwhelmingly dominated by one party -- Democrats in Cook and Republicans elsewhere in the collars -- the issues these leaders face do not usually reflect the doctrinaire differences of fundamental economic philosophy and emotional social services policy that tend to govern debate and decisions at the state and national level. While we of course want to see more cooperation among the parties in Springfield and Washington, it is even more practical to expect that in Waukegan and Wheaton and Geneva and Woodstock and perhaps Chicago as well.
At the local level, there is plenty of room for diverse points of view on how to address matters of departmental staffing, public health, safety and so on, but it seems most likely -- and preferable -- that those disagreements will fall according to differences in elected officials' personal understanding of the issues rather than in their need or desire to form contrary and counterproductive ideological coalitions. That expectation seemed implicit in Hart's inaugural remarks.
"When there are differences of opinion, we will listen to understand, debate respectfully and seek common ground," she said.
Opportunities abound for that kind of approach to local government. However naive it may seem, we hope our new county boards rise to them.