Why did a political party’s choices for candidates for office become a government-run process? In short, why must we have primaries?
Most readers will conjure up images of smoke-filled rooms where sacks of money are exchanged for slots on a party’s slate of candidates, and conclude that’s a bad way of running a country. If every party did that, we’d end up with a bunch of scalawags and worse on the election ballot every time.
Or would we? Refer to other articles here for the mantra: Carter. Reagan. Bush. Clinton. Another Bush. Obama.
Have government-run primaries improved the quality of candidates and officeholders? Or does the “smoke-filled rooms” scenario simply take place much earlier, followed by the long, tortuous, ridiculously expensive primary season?
Who really benefits from primaries anyway? Certainly not candidates who, egged on by media, tear into each other so vigorously and viciously that almost no one casts a ballot without a bad taste in the mouth. Certainly not we voters, whose choices are limited to the folks willing to hustle for the kind of bucks needed to buy the advertising to — well, to buy the election.
Here in Florida, even a State House district race — where the winner brings home about $30,000 a year — costs a quarter million to stand a chance.
Perhaps that’s why this article is on a website not supported by advertising. Whether primaries are a good thing or not, the news and advertising industries sure aren’t going to endorse a different nominating process.
What could that process be? For starters, parties should have the option of participating in a primary or not. If they prefer to gather in a smoke-filled room — or a vegan resort, whatever — to select their candidates, fine. As long as they qualify for the ballot, life is good.
For parties that want the added exposure, as negative as that always seems to be — sure, stay in the primary process. But if there is one law for all primaries that ought to be created, let’s allow independent voters (not registered with a particular party) to vote in the party primary of their choice.
This path would likely (hopefully) improve the process in three ways:
For parties that opt out of primaries, the cost to run would be much less, which hopefully would mean more (and more qualified) candidates would seek office.
For parties that stay in the primary, independent voters would almost certainly moderate the views of the winner. This means the kowtowing to a party’s “core” that goes on during primaries, which is then replaced with strained explanations of how Ms Candidate is not really in favor of government financed abortions for all illegals (ooops, undocumented workers), while Mr Candidate wants antennae implanted in everyone’s heads only after they’re arrested — well, it probably won’t go away, but there should be less of it.
For parties that just plain really want the a candidate on the ballot because of that abortion / antennae thing, they can opt out of the primary to ensure the candidate with their views is on the ballot.
The downsides? The one we’ll hear most is that the public won’t have as much time to “assess” candidates. Maybe there’s substance to that, but given the big story in late July — did someone on Romney’s staff use the term ‘Anglo-Saxon’ — c’mon already.
Of course, New Hampshire will still have its primary in January and Iowa will still hold its caucuses months before any of us should be seriously thinking about this stuff. And, except for the early date, they probably should. But any large state like California, Florida, Texas, New York, Illinois, would do well to reconsider.