For representational government to work it must have a functional system for rotation in office and for the removal of representatives who have become jaded in their work and lost the confidence of the people. As it exists now our electoral system has become an enabler of perpetual incumbency and that is a formula for tyranny.
The stagnation in our electoral system is largely the result of entrenched interests within the political party system using their fundraising ability and their institutional power to maintain the status quo. They support the established incumbent leaders in power against any challengers with the goal of keeping the party leadership structure and position of power held by that establishment stable and intact. They place the power of the party ahead of the will of the people.
In the 2010 election there were a number of Republican primaries where organizations like the Republican National Committee or state or county Republican Party organizations used the money of their members and their influence within the party to try to block challenges to incumbent or picked establishment candidates from tea party candidates who had much greater popular support like Rand Paul and Marco Rubio. They spent money donated by party members to keep insider incumbents in power, often directly against the desire and best interests of those party members who wanted very much to see change in the party and in those holding office.
As a result of this donations to major party organizations like the RNC, the NRSC, the RCCC and even state parties have fallen off dramatically as rank and file party members have begun to give their money to more specialized groups which advocate change or directly to candidates they like. This is a positive step for the Republican Party and the beginning of what could become a movement to break the power of establishment party interests and reassert the voice of the people in our elections.
A new group called Fair Primary 2012 is entering into this battle with the goal of convincing Republican party organizations that they should keep their money and their influence out of primary elections and instead spend that money and use their resources on supporting Republican candidates in the general election against the Democrats. Incumbents inherently have a lot of advantages just because they are already in office. Empowering them even further with party money and party organizations blocking challenges in the primary makes elections unfair and cheats the people of a voice in choosing the kind of representation they want in government.
Fair Primary 2012 has a sort of a two-pronged attack strategy to get party organizations out of primaries and level the playing field. The first part is the Fair Primary Pledge which is designed to put financial pressure on party organizations. On their website Republican party members are asked to sign and follow the following:
“I believe Republican party primaries should be fair and open with opportunities for candidates with new ideas to challenge incumbents.
“I oppose interference by party leadership groups in primaries through spending, endorsements or political influence and will not let them use my money to pick winners and losers in primary contests.”
“When they ask for money I will tell them they can have my support when they pledge to stay out of primary elections and save their money for beating the Democrats with the best candidates, chosen by the people in a fair and open primary.”
The Fair Primary pledge is designed to discourage Republican Party leadership groups interfering in the primary entirely, leaving candidates to raise their own money and win on their own merits. It is designed to send these organizations a clear message that if they use their money against the will of the people then the people will stop sending them that money. This trend has already cut the warchest of the RNC in half since 2008 and the purpose of this pledge is to tie that established trend to a clear message of intent.
The second thrust of this campaign is to get these organizations to make a public commitment to fair and open primaries. Once the pressure from potential doors starts to have an effect and they presumably hear enough turn-downs on fundraising calls they’ have the option to try to get back on the good side of the grassroots voters who pay their bills by passing and abiding by the Fair Primary Resolution.
This resolution is a simple policy statement which anyone can introduce in their county or state Republican Executive Committee and which can also be passed by groups like the Republican National Committee and be written into state and national party platforms. It’s pretty simple:
“As a party organization which represents the interests of all Republicans, we agree not to spend money from our members or to use our position of authority within the party to try to influence the outcome of party primary elections on the local, state or national level. We will remain neutral and support all candidates equally, saving our resources for the more important goal of defeating the Democrats and winning in the general election.”
If party organizations actuallly agreed to this policy it would fundamentally change how primaries operate and make it much easier to mount a challenge to established incumbents. It confronts party leaders with the dangerous question of where their real interests lie, with those they have already put in power or with the people who make up the grassroots of the party.
Clearly the idea behind this effort is to have the pledge go viral with tea party groups around the natiion who resent party insiders keeping their candidates out of office. If rank and file party members can be turned into activists and actually use the money they give whcih funds party efforts as a tool for leverage to change the way the party operates it could probably have a very significant effect in opening up the electoral process in the Republican primary.
It certainly seems more healthy for a party which is as clearly divided as the Republican Party is at this time, to open up the primary process and give the party base and average voters more of a voice in how the party operates and who represents them in office. There is a very real divide in the party between the leaders and the members, and this pledge is rather like a broadside fired at the leadership demanding back control of the party and of the primary process.
If you’re a Republican and like the idea of more open primaries, you can sign the pledge and maybe be part of a movement which might make a real difference.