Thursday, April 14, 2016

In Praise of Closed Primaries

I'm going to express an unpopular opinion here. And I'm not even going to try to make a reasoned argument, I'm just going to blurt my gut-level opinion. Part of my latest bout of writers block is that I've been too guarded, too cautious. (Too many hours in closed door meetings do that to a guy.)

I really LIKE New York's tightly closed primary.

Maybe October 9 is a little too early for a party change deadline for an April 19 primary. But I'll be honest. I like that better than what Iowa has, where a $10,000 a year Republican donor can walk in on primary day, choose the Democratic Party's local candidates, all while asking "how soon can I change back?" as if party affiliation is just an inconvenience or some kind of joke.

(That'll be especially prevalent in Johnson County this year, when most Republicans will see a ballot with no contested races at all.)

Political parties, and political loyalty, are two things that are undervalued in our current political culture, and the decline of these institutional values play a big role in our current dysfunction. Both parties have nomination processes that are spiralling into chaos, and in both cases it's people who have no interest in the functioning of the party who are causing the distress.

Leaving aside the issues of third parties and single member districts for now, and dealing with the structure we have, I think actual Democrats should choose Democratic candidates, and actual Republicans should choose Republican candidates. And I think "independents" - why do people love that word so much? - should wait for the general election.

Now, is that an absolute? Maybe, maybe not. Pat Rynard makes a strong case for Democrats to cross over for Rick Bertrand against Steve King. And there are sincere independents who are drawn to a given candidate, though it's fewer and fewer each year due to generational change and because now there are actual consistent ideological differences between the parties. Not perfect, but there are no more segregationist Democrats or liberal Republicans. 

I also believe "I vote the person not the party" is mostly an excuse, falsely elevated and ennobled by the press, for "I have no consistent belief system." The outdated institution of print media loves the outdated concepts of split tickets and pure independents.

Here's a sniff test: If you went to one party's presidential caucus in February, you shouldn't get to vote in the other party's courthouse primary in June. That's the law in a lot of state, and I wouldn't complain if it were the law here. I say one change a year is fair. And the party change deadline should be BEFORE the candidate filing deadline. You should make up your mind about what you think about the big picture before you pick candidates.

And if you buy into a process, you should buy into the outcome. I am completely in support of Sore Loser laws that bar primary losers from general election ballots.

I also think the core party activists, they types who hold precinct committee seats, should either support the ticket or resign. And you get one pass in a lifetime on that. I used mine on Al Gore. The SECOND time you bolt the party, you're not really part of it any more. The third time, you're a cancer that needs to be amputated.

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