Do You Want A Strong, Vibrant GOP For Decades To Come? GOP-Only Primaries Are Essential.
8-26-2009 8:14 am
In a few weeks the members of the California Republican Party Central Committee will gather in Riverside County for our semi-annual convention. At that convention, delegates will consider a change that I have proposed in the state party's bylaws that, if passed, would establish that only registered Republicans may cast ballot in the primary to determine who will be our party's nominee in all partisan general elections match ups.
When I tell people about this proposal, most people respond in disbelief, not having understood that currently millions of California voters who choose not to register as a Republican have the ability to cast a ballot in the GOP primary. As one said to me just yesterday, "That doesn't make any sense - it's our Republican Party primary, where Republicans select the nominee to go up against the Democrat in November, right?"
As it currently stands, Decline To State (or independent) voters may request a Republican ballot, and vote in GOP primaries. For some time now, only the GOP Presidential primary has been open only to Republican voters - as the Republican National Committee rules prevent the seating of any delegates chosen through a process that includes non-Republican voters - a good policy in my opinion.
Contrary to what some are saying about my proposal - that it is designed to advantage conservatives over moderates, or to help specific candidates over others - that is not at all what this is about. This is about the long-term view about whether my political party is ultimately centered around the idea that people with common ideas and beliefs willingly come together and belong to a party out of common interest.
Much is made right now of the fact that DTS voters represent the quickest growing segment of voters. While there may be a number of reasons for this (including negative campaigning, which is a topic for another day), one reason may be that if you offer up the franchise to vote in party primaries to a DTS voter, why would they bother to join our party at all? They enjoy the best of all worlds - not only getting to pick from any of the party nominees in a General Election, but also getting to vote for their favorite primary choice in either major political party for the Primary.
My argument in support of making this change is very straightforward...
In America, we have a "weak party" system - political parties here do not control government, and political parties do not have the ability to deny ballot access to people (as they do in countries such as Great Britain). Hardly anyone reads a party platform, if they even know parties have them. In this country, political parties are almost exclusively defined by their candidates (including successful candidates, who become officeholders).
So the Republican Party has a responsibility to look out ten, twenty or thirty years, and think about what the net effect is of having people who choose not to be Republican having an official say in who the GOP standard bearer will be in general elections. The idea is that like-minded people should be able to come together and choose someone who best reflects the view and direction of their party to go up against the nominees of the other parties. Again, this is not a conservative or moderate issue - after all, Senator John McCain, who was not popular with many party conservatives, last year won a closed Republican primary in California in a rather convincing fashion. Looking ahead to the 2010 Gubernatorial primary, I think that both Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman (and Tom Campbell if he can raise some funds) are well positioned to campaign to GOP voters and both have a very realistic shot at becoming the nominee.
Speaking of Meg Whitman, she would be probably the highest profile example of someone who is a registered Republican today because of our GOP-only Presidential primary rules. Whitman was an energetic supporter of Governor Mitt Romney and in September of 2007 re-registered from DTS to Republican in order to be able to vote for him. Today she is a proud Republican, actively campaigning for our party's nomination for Governor.
It is important that the winner of that primary be able to say that they are the legitimate choice of their fellow party members - registered Republicans in California. It would be an outright shame if the primary were so close, that cross-over independent voters, who are not Republicans, could have made the difference - damaging the credibility of the GOP nominee. I should also add that a great many DTS voters in California are extremely liberal, and if forced to register in a party, would never choose the GOP. It is not healthy for a party to have people diametrically opposed to its core principles playing a very real role in choosing its nominees.
Opponents to this idea like to say that it is important to give independent voters the ability to "self-select" a Republican ballot - that Democrats have their primaries open to DTS voters and we wouldn't want the only option for a these folks to have is to vote in the primary of our political adversaries. First and foremost, I don't agree with this line of reasoning. Putting aside the matter of principle articulated above, I believe that in a vibrant general election debate, our Republican candidates have the ability to be persuasive to a DTS voter, even if they did cast a vote in a Democrat primary. The reality is that, at present, the number of independent voters who vote in Republican primaries is very small - roughly 63,000 out of nearly 1.8 million in the 2008 primary election. I should also add that under the current "open" system - we are losing, not gaining legislative seats.
The point of principle is extremely important here, and more importantly, the long term view of the party is significant. For the long term health of the party system in America, it is critical that primary elections be reserved for party members to come together and choose standard bearers for general elections. When we move away from this basic tenet of party organization, we go down a slippery slope that leads to the erosion of the primary system all together (where we end up with so-called "open primaries" or the "top two" proposal on the ballot next June that essential would eliminate a real party system in California).
Let us remember that unlike the hoops one must go through to become a naturalized citizen, the barriers to becoming a registered Republican are virtually non-existent. Anyone, regardless of race, color, creed, financial status or any other factor can simply check the Republican box on a voter registration form and they are in - and can then legitimately participate in our party's primaries.
If we look around the country, at places where primaries are "open" or voters don't register by political party, the influence of parties has continually diminished to near irrelevancy. I don't want that to happen here. I believe in the two party system and want to give people an incentive to join our party.
I have been and continue to enjoy a meaningful debate on this issue among Republican Party leaders. But I urge everyone to take a big step back, and look at this issue as a fiduciary of the California Republican Party. When a political party no longer can establish reasonable ground rules for the selection of its nominees, it stands to reason that eventually the result of this will be a party adrift, with candidates who no longer represent the core beliefs of the Republican Party.
I suppose some may feel that the "age of political parties" in America is waning, and that only by appealing to non members for primary votes can a political party hope to stay relevant until...the very end (of parties). I don't buy this short-sighted view. For well over two centuries, our democratic republic has done pretty well under a vibrant party-system for organizing political activists and activities. It is my hope to see a strengthening of the Republican Party, with a goal of bringing independent voters into our party to help choose our nominees, not catering to those who decline to state a preference towards any political party at all.
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