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Party Lines: What should be done about the caucus system?
by Rob Miller
May 21, 2011 | 3190 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Rob Miller Democrat
Rob Miller Democrat
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In Utah, candidates do not have to associate themselves with any political party in order to be placed directly on the general election ballot and political parties cannot prevent a candidate from presenting themselves to the voters to be elected as their public official.

Now if a candidate wants to be associated with a political party, that is another matter altogether. Candidates can present themselves to the party regulars and ask for a nomination. This happens at multiple levels: the caucus, convention and primary. This process is only for candidates who wish to be associated with a political party.

There is a proposal in the State Legislature to force parties to endorse candidates selected in a direct primary. This would bypass the party’s quality control mechanisms in favor of information provided by advertising firms and the news media to primary election voters. It is wrong for the State Legislature to deny political parties their right to freely associate with candidates of their choosing in this way.

On more than one occasion the Democratic Party has chosen to support no candidate rather than candidates who do not represent our values. This kind of direct primary would take that away from us and give us candidates like Al Greene, the 2010 U.S. Senate Democratic nominee in South Carolina.

The South Carolina State Chair said she had not seen Greene since he filed to run, local party leaders had not met Greene, he did not attended any local Democratic events and had not responded to any invitations to local meetings. He did not attend the state Democratic Party convention, did not file the form with the Secretary of the Senate and the legally required form for the Federal Election Commission, and attempted to pay his $10,400 filing fee with a personal check, rather than a check from a campaign account.

Greene faced felony obscenity charges stemming from a November 2009 arrest for allegedly showing a pornographic picture on an Internet site to an 18-year-old female University of South Carolina student.

Was this good for democracy? I think not. A study by the Pew Research Center released in July 2010 found that Greene’s campaign received the most media attention of all of the 2010 political campaigns.

Will it give us more moderate candidates? Forty-three states already have direct primaries. It gives us the majority of members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Is that our model of moderation and decorum?

The fact is that when candidates compete in a direct primary they have to get more money and media attention to campaign to a larger group. This leads them to more strident positions as they try to distinguish themselves and get media attention. It may make them more beholden to funders. This also leads to more need for candidates to “bring home the bacon” with special pork-barrel spending and less general appropriation ballooning the budget like we have seen at the federal level.

Direct primaries may bring in a few more voices, but at the cost of eliminating the right of people to freely associate. It will insure more special interest money, more pandering to the extremes to get media attention and fewer controls on government spending.

To dismantle the party caucus system due to the frustration of choices made by GOP delegates is bad policy. Let’s not abandon a system that has provided us a means to work together to support candidates of our choosing – a system that has generally given us a moderate, centrist governance since statehood.

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