In the aftermath of a sometimes contentious legislative session, Ken Vogel reports in The News Tribune today on a heartwarming display of bipartisanship… plans by the Democratic, Republican and Libertarian parties to reach out across the aisle(s), join hands, and sue the state in federal court to scrap the “Louisiana style” Top-Two primary system enacted by Initiative 872 last November.
Rarely does an issue serve to bring political foes so close together: Democrats and Republicans, Paul Berendt and Chris Vance… Goldy and the Snark?!
Yeah, that’s right… both Stefan and I came out against I-872, and rather strongly. Stefan called it a “dumb idea,” cogently arguing that it would weaken parties.
Those who don’t like political parties might think this is an attractive outcome, but bear in mind that parties provide important services to the democratic process (that’s why all democracies have them). These services include: organization, fund-raising, coalition-building, candidate recruitment and training, and most importantly the development of stands on issues and the ability to help voters identify candidates with a particular set of positions. If the parties wither away, other institutions will step in to fill the void.
Yeah, um… like the BIAW. Just look at their influence in the so-called “nonpartisan” race for the Supreme Court, where they single-handedly got Jim Johnson elected to the bench. And as Stefan explains:
In the absence of party organizations that tie candidates to platforms and identifiable coalitions of interest groups, elections will degenerate even more than they are into personality contests. Candidates who already have, or can purchase name recognition will have an even greater advantage than they have today: incumbents, wealthy individuals, moneyed interests and celebrities will all come away with even greater advantages than they have today. So will those who control media organizations and would be in an even stronger position to promote their favorite candidates.
Of course, the tool that he is, Stefan might just have been acting as a mouthpiece for his GOP overlords, but I choose to take him at his word (as long as it suits my purpose.)
In my own pre-election endorsements, my stated opposition to I-872 was decidedly more blunt:
“Waaahhhh! I want my blanket primary!”
That’s pretty much what voters and editorialists have been crying ever since the Supreme Court threw out Washington’s odd “blanket” or “open” primary.
Well get over it!
Besides, contrary to popular belief, I-872 does NOT restore the blanket primary… instead it replaces it with the equally odd but decidedly more stupid “Louisiana-style” top-two primary. Yes, I-872 gives you more choice in the primary, but it does so by giving you less choice in the general election… and that, after all, is when the majority of people actually vote.
I always felt reducing choice in the general election was the most compelling argument against top-two, but it would inevitably reduce choice in the primary as well. As it stands, Vance strongly discourages primary challenges in key statewide races (I don’t call him “GOPolitburo Chair” for nothing,) and the top-two format only serves to incentivize this antidemocratic trend towards strict party unity. For example, Democratic runner-up Mark Sidran nearly out-polled Rob McKenna in the September primary. If this had been a top-two primary, and McKenna had faced a serious challenger, only Sidran and Deborah Senn would have made it to the November ballot.
As the TNT reports, the parties understand this, and that is why they are planning to opt out of the primary system while they wait for their lawsuit to wend its way through the courts.
In the meantime, in the eight counties holding partisan elections this fall, the parties are trying to bypass the September primary, the first one under the new Top Two system. Instead, they’re pledging to use caucuses and conventions in which party activists pick candidates.
“That’s not what the voters thought they were voting for,” said Chris Vance, the state Republican Party chairman.
Yeah, no kidding Chris.
This maneuver will likely spark a second lawsuit. The state GOP has sent a letter to King County Elections:
“Only the candidates nominated by the Republican Party will be eligible to use the Republican name in the September primary,” the letter reads.
Not so, said King County elections director Dean Logan. He plans to send a response this week stating that anyone who files to run as a Republican will appear on the primary ballot as such.
As soon as Logan puts his decision in writing, Vance plans to sue King County, arguing the top-two violates his party’s First Amendment right to associate… and both the Democrats and Libertarians plan to join in. They will ask the court to reinstate the Montana-style system, or at the very least, allow the parties to chose their nominees via convention or caucus.
What I find most fascinating about this whole issue is that despite their rare show of bipartisan unity and cooperation, the parties have managed to blunder their way into the current disaster. The old blanket primary is probably starting to look pretty good to Berendt and Vance right about now.
Don’t get me wrong… I thought the old primary sucked. An open primary is an oxymoronic method for a party to choose its nominees, and ridiculously susceptible to gaming the system with cross-over votes for weak candidates. I should know: I’m an unrepentant Ellen Craswell and John Carlson voter.
But while I was as happy as anybody to see the old system tossed, you’d think the geniuses who challenged its constitutionality might have thought a little bit ahead about what might replace it. Was it really so hard to imagine that in a state that routinely uses the initiative process to send a big “Fuck You” to Olympia, the electorate might finger the party bosses with something worse?
If anything, this whole debacle just serves to prove the value of divisive, partisan politics. After all, just look at the shit they get themselves into when the parties are in total agreement.