Washblog

Now we've done it (the Grange and the nonpartisan state)

Now that the Grange, or rather their surrogates in the legislature, are pushing for a nonpartisan election system in Washington, I get to say it: told you so. The Grange wasn't going to quit. They've lost every round in court since the Jungle Primary was booted down the alley years ago. I-872, the Top Two primary, is working its way through the courts now, but now they've basically been forced to go the whole monty: nonpartisan elections, statewide.

I'm not a particular fan of the Top Two primary, nonpartisan primary, Jungle Primary or even our current "open primary," but rather I'm a fan of what the two major parties not suing to overturn the primary system would have meant: that the parties were ok with the voters deciding how they'd like to vote, rather than the political parties deciding. I also understand that freedom of association is a constitutional right and that was why both the Jungle and Top Two were overturned. All that said, it was still possible for the parties not to sue in the first place.

It would have sent a message to the voters that "Ok, if this is the world we live in, then we'll find a way to work." In my mind, that would have been a lot of hard work on the local level to make parties relevant not just to the party faithful, but to the rank and file voter.

Anyway, this bill isn't going anywhere right now, the Supreme Court will eventually put the final nail in the Top Two's coffin and the Grange will run an initiative in 2008 to turn everything nonpartisan. And, minus a huge "No" campaign to muddy the water, it will pass. And, we'll have to find a way to live with it. The two parties in Pierce County are going to fight over an executive position with a basically nonpartisan system, Instant Runoff Voting, in the next couple of years. We should watch them and see how they do it.

Two interesting notes: If grassroots Democrats love IRV and it basically solves the concerns of the Grange, why can't we forge a compromise?

This isn't going to be the first bill regarding a statewide nonpartisan election. SB 5556, at the request of Democratic State Treasurer Mike Murphy and sponsored by three Democrats and a Republican, will make the treasurer the second statewide nonpartisan position after the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Unlike the Grange's broader bill, it has a hearing on February 13.


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The Grange will run an initiative in 2008 to turn everything nonpartisan. And, minus a huge "No" campaign to muddy the water, it will pass.

In a pig's ass it will! Or in some bizarro world.

This will be the final nail in their coffin, and it's in all our interest to help hammer that nail home. These gomers have far less clout than they think.

If perception is reality, then the world must be flat and the sun must revolve around it.

by ivan on Thu Feb 08, 2007 at 09:10:17 PM PST

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All that said, it was still possible for the parties not to sue in the first place.

  After the 9th circuit decision was upheld by SCOTUS, any losing primary candidate could probably have succeeded in suing over their loss and might have achieved a summary judgment.
  Please, don't take this comment to indicate I'm pleased with where we are, I really liked the old system and supported more than one resolution to the party to not go down the path.
  But we're here, and frankly, I wish local elections up to county (except King :) level at least were non-partisan. Auditor and Secretary of State and Land Commissioner would be good also.
  Besides, however non-partisan you make it, those paying attention know the party leanings of most candidates.

Dave Gibney Pullman

by gibney on Thu Feb 08, 2007 at 09:59:18 PM PST

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The Grange, and apparently a lot of other people, somehow imagine that saying our elections are "nonpartisan" breaks the power of Political Parties.  But that's just nonsense.  The legislature cannot, absolutely is not capable, in any way, of eliminating Political Parties.  This is a pragmatic statement, not a theoretical one.  It's simply not possible.  People will get together.  They will talk politics.  They will decide to band together and back candidates.  They will decide to promote one of their own, over others who have similar ideas.  These things will occur by human nature.

Before we instituted Primary Elections as part of the Progressive Reform at the start of the 20th Century, these things all took place with no State recognition and no labels on the ballot.  The races in the early days of the nation were "nonpartisan" in exactly the same sense they will be if this kind of legislation (or initiative) passes.  If you have read your history, you know this means there were Political Parties, you know they were powerful, and you know they had massive influence over election outcomes.  Just like they do now.  The only difference is that now every voter knows who is "in" each Party, and candidate selection takes place in the open.  

If we declare all our offices "nonpartisan", it only means that the State will stop printing Party names on the ballots.  That means voters will have less information about the affiliation of the candidates.   The State will also stop sponsoring the Major Party candidate selection process.  That means, by necessity, candidate selection will be undertaken by smaller groups of activists in less public fora.  The Parties will have to make their choices at conventions, or maybe over dinner and drinks in a private room somewhere.

Will this give the Parties less clout?  Read about 19th Century politics, and the behavior of organizations like Tamanny Hall, to see how a Political Party works when it does not have to poll its members to choose candidates.

by bobkoerner on Fri Feb 09, 2007 at 01:20:20 AM PST

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I've gotta agree w/ Emmett & Dave that instant runoff voting is the best way to go. It would:
  • eliminate the need for (& cost of!) a primary election altogether;
  • it would preserve the integrity of political parties; and
  • it would open up the political system to alternative voices & level the playing field between "major parties" & "minor parties."

A winning combination, IMO.

by lanscot on Sat Feb 10, 2007 at 03:06:40 AM PST

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