Monday, May 16, 2005

Democracy Demands Primary Reform

by Kyle Michaelis
The Associated Press reports on a Democratic National Committee hearing in Chicago last weekend on reforms to the Presidential Primary schedule that could have some changes in store for Nebraska Democrats:
Democratic officials heard competing proposals Saturday to revamp the election calendar the party uses to choose a presidential nominee every four years. The three major proposals would focus on regional primaries. Two of those proposals would allow Iowa and New Hampshire to retain their leadoff roles in the candidate selection process.

A third plan, offered by Michigan Democrats, would create a rotating series of six regional primaries. A different region would launch each presidential nominating season. That plan would allow single-state contests to begin the process, but those states would be rotated. "Share the wealth," said Michigan Sen. Carl Levin. "I would not lock in specific states."

Officials from Iowa and New Hampshire vowed to defend their status and said the system's real problem is excessive "front-loading." In 2004, 30 states selected delegates by mid-March, which former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen said takes influence away from voters in later states...

Backers of the early status of Iowa and New Hampshire also argue that those states have traditionally opened the nominating season for decades and that voters there take their politics seriously.

Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa defended his state's position. "It emphasizes face-to-face politics, not big money," he said. "There should be a role in the beginning of our process for the party faithful."

Levin, however, blasted this perpetual privilege..."What's at stake here is nothing less than a struggle for political equality and political relevance," Levin said.

The proposals were made before a special commission selected by the Democratic National Committee. Any changes will be recommended in December.

Leslie Reynolds of the National Association of Secretaries of State said her group favored a plan that divides the country into four regions, which would hold rotating primaries after Iowa's leadoff caucuses and New Hampshire's opening primary.

A group called Democrats for the West pushed for an early primary group of eight interior Western states that would also vote after Iowa and New Hampshire. Brian Kuehl of that group said the region is the fastest-growing in the nation.
No offense to our Democratic neighbors to the east, but Levin is absolutely right in questioning the priveleged status of Iowa and New Hampshire. As much as I otherwise respect Sen. Harkin, there's nothing at all unique to Iowa and New Hampshire that qualifies their "party faithful" for this positioning.

The current system is indefensible but as tradition for tradition's sake, with the notion that these voters' take their job more seriously insulting to Democrats across the country. Even if this preposterous notion were the case, it would be no more than a reflection of these voters' undue influence, which undoubtedly serves to suppress the larger vote nation-wide.

In this era of politics-by-hype, there is still a place for the "retail politics" Iowa and New Hampshire have traditionally represented, but the time has come for other communities and other voices to be heard. Try as representatives of these states might to shift blame on other states' for moving their election calendars up, they are dancing around the obvious hypocrisy of their sense of entitlement to first-in-nation status. How dare they condemn others for "front-loading" when they are the ultimate front-loaders?

Of these proposals, the Michigan plan simply makes the most sense. It's the most fair - the most democratic. As a gesture of good will, I'd even endorse Iowa and New Hampshire maintaining their traditional status in 2008, with a complete overhaul not taking effect until 2012. From there, though, the time has come for leveling the playing field and returning the "Party of the People" to people nation-wide.

Here's a suggestion I personally would like to receive consideration since regional primaries are not the only possible avenue of reform: base the election calendar on the prior Presidential election. I'd say, for excitement's sake, let the highest and lowest Democratic-performing states from the previous election vote first, followed from there on out by the most closely-divided swing states.

A Democratic strong-hold and the Democratic-starved would be heard first, likely pretty divergent voices receiving a lot of attention. Then, the Democrats in the trenches could choose from there. Just an idea - something else to throw at the wall.

I'm actually a little bit troubled by regional voting that might emphasize cultural differences in a monolithic sense. I'd rather see regions established for the sake of staggering bordering states to ensure they did NOT vote in too close of proximity. For example, one state from each region (or select regions) would vote on the same day, emphasizing the larger American community. From these regions, perhaps assignment via lottery might even make the most sense. Any thoughts?


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