Senate bill would emasculate political parties in Nevada

sb103

A bill has been introduced in Carson City that would jettison the current Democrat and Republican primaries in favor of an open primary system, in which anyone could sign up as a candidate and anyone could vote for anyone of any party or no party. The top two vote getters would advance to the General Election, even if both are affiliated with the same party or no party.

The bill would make the two major political parties irrelevant in actually selecting their own candidates and reduce them to the role of merely endorsing candidates.

Senate Bill 103 was introduced by Republican state Sen. James Settelmeyer of Minden.

Settelmeyer told the media that some of his constituents were upset that they could not vote in the primary because they were nonpartisan.

As of December, 39 percent of active Nevada voters were Democrats, 33 percent Republicans and 28 percent nonpartisan or members of some other minor party.

The whole concept of partisan party politics is to facilitate persons of like-minded political persuasions to organize and select candidates that promise to advance a given philosophy of governance — though in recent years the efficacy of this proposition has been suspect in Nevada with self-styled conservatives voting for history making tax hikes.

Now, I’ve never been in favor of forcing all taxpayers, including nonpartisans and members of other parties, to pay for the primaries the state puts on for the Democrat and Republican parties. Let those parties pay for their primaries or caucuses or smoke-filled backrooms.

But the open primary system makes it more difficult to weigh the various candidates based on past allegiances and opens the opportunity for Fifth Column candidates to claim to be what they are not. Faux Democrats or Republicans could flood the ballot and split the vote for a party’s real selection.

In Louisiana in the 1970s Democratic Gov. Edwin Edwards hatched a foolproof plan to end the Republican Party in that state. He pushed through an open primary under the assumption Republicans would not make it to the General Election, due to heavy Democratic majorities in the urban areas of the state, meaning two Democrats would face off in November.

But the best laid plans oft gang awry. In the next election there were seven Democrats on the gubernatorial ballot, one nonpartisan and one Republican. When the smoke cleared, Republican Dave Treen was elected governor, leading the way for the state to transition to Republican domination.

At least the open primary is better than letting anyone and everyone decide on Election Day in which primary they will vote.

Think of it this way. Political parties are like brands. Without brands who knows what adulterated product you are getting.

Politics is messy. Open primaries just make it messier.

At the turn of the previous century Baltimore’s notoriously curmudgeonly newspaper columnist, H.L. Mencken, pined for more realism in politics:

“I can imagine a political campaign purged of all the current false assumptions and false pretenses — a campaign in which, on election day, the voters went to the polls clearly informed that the choice between them was not between an angel and a devil, a good man and a bad man, but between two frank go-getters, the one perhaps excelling at beautiful and nonsensical words and the other at silent and prehensile deeds — the one a chautauqua orator and the other the porch-climber. There would be, in that choice, something free, candid and exhilarating. The Buncome would be adjourned. The voter would make his selection in the full knowledge of all the facts, as he makes his selection between two heads of cabbage, or two evening papers, or two brands of chewing tobacco. Today he chooses his rulers as he buys bootleg whiskey, never knowing precisely what he is getting, only certain that it is not what it pretends to be. The Scotch may turn out to be wood alcohol or it may turn out to be gasoline; in either case it is not Scotch. How much better if it were plainly labeled, for wood alcohol and gasoline both have their uses — higher uses, indeed that Scotch. The danger is that the swindled and poisoned consumer, despairing of ever avoiding them when he doesn’t want them, and actually enforce his own prohibition. The danger is that the hopeless voters, forever victimized by his false assumption about politicians, may in the end gather such ferocious indignation that he will abolish them teetotally and at one insane sweep, and so cause government by the people, for the people and with the people to perish from this earth.”

In 2014, only 59 percent of those eligible to vote in Nevada even bothered to register. Of those who registered, only 46 percent went to the polls in November, meaning 73 percent of those eligible to vote did not choose any brand of bootleg whiskey.

 

Editorial: Let the political parties choose their candidates without the state’s interference

A change in election law in the 2015 Legislature has some claiming they are being disenfranchised.

Previously, when the state-run Democratic and Republican primaries resulted in only one of the two major parties having contested primaries, the top two vote earners in the contested primary would advance to the November General Election or, if only two candidates sought a seat, there would be no primary and both would be on the November ballot.

But Senate Bill 499 changed the law to now read: “If a major political party has two or more candidates for a particular office, the person who receives the highest number of votes at the primary election must be declared the nominee of that major political party for the office.”

Thus, for example, if there are only Republicans seeking an office, one of them is the party nominee and appears on the ballot in November, leaving Democrats and independents and those of the minor parties in the district little choice save the one Republican Party members handed them.

The bill also moved back the deadline for independent and minor party candidates to qualify for the General Election from June to July, so a Democrat could still file as an independent but not as a nominee of the party.

In one state Senate race and three Assembly races there are candidates on the June 14 primary for only one of the two major political parties, according to press accounts.

The change in law creates some different dynamics.

Take for example Assembly District 19, which includes Mesquite. Incumbent Republican Assemblyman Chris Edwards is being challenged in the primary by Republican Connie Foust. Only 39 percent of the district is Republican.

Edwards has the distinction of voting for most of the $1.4 billion in tax hikes in 2015 before voting against them.

Conceivably Edwards would have a better chance of re-election if he faced Foust in a General Election with Democrats and others also voting rather than in a GOP-only primary.

Foust is thumping on the tax issue in her campaign against Edwards. “The current incumbent broke his promise when he said, ‘Now is not the time to raise taxes’, and then proceeded to vote for tax increases in 26 out of 32 tax bills!” Foust’s campaign website declares.

Similar dynamics could be a factor in other races and alter the outcome of the election.

As originally introduced SB499 was a weird form of open primary. All candidates of all parties would have appeared on a single primary ballot and the top two vote recipients would advance to the general, unless they both were of the same party.

As signed into law by Gov. Brian Sandoval the gutted bill now just changes minor party and independent candidate filing deadlines and allows only one Democrat or one Republican to advance to November.

This is why some are saying they are being disenfranchised by having limited choices.

Frankly, lawmakers are the last people who should be telling the parties how to choose their candidates. The parties are private entities that should choose their candidates in any way they see fit — privately funded caucuses, primaries, smoke-filled backrooms or “American Idol”-style voting via text message or arm-wrestling competition.

The state doesn’t conduct primaries for the Libertarian, American Independent, Green or Communist parties, why do it for just two?

Not only is the U.S. Constitution silent on political parties, our Founders were actually disdainful of political parties.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1789, “I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.”

“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other,” John Adams wrote in 1780. “This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”

Let the parties choose their candidates without lawmakers dabbling in the process.

A version of this editorial appeared this past week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record. It ran as a column in the Elko Daily Free Press.

Nevada primary voting in 2014 (R-J photo)