Our Closed Political System

Katherine Clark special election photo from the Boston Globe.

Katherine Clark special election – photo Boston Globe.

We throw around the word “democracy” when we are in fact a “republic,” meaning that we vote for who “represents” us.

The glaring defect in this young republic is that this vote we have is less than meets the eye – it is a forced choice among carefully chosen candidates in a closed system.

We need to strike the choke points that bar our participation and dilute our vote.

First, a very few people decide who runs for office; this has got to change. 

Close to home, we are having a special election in late January 2014 to fill State Senator Mark Herring’s seat for the 33rd District because Mark is becoming the State’s Attorney General.

Republican Delegate Joe May wants to fill that post.  Joe complained, however, that he wanted his Republican Party’s nomination “process” to be a “firehouse primary,” thought to be more “democratic,” as opposed to his party’s preference for a closed door party caucus.  510 persons attended the caucus that Joe disapproved.  348 participants chose the party nominee, John Whitbeck.  Of the 107,730 voters in that Senate District, 4/10th of 1% of the District chose John as the Republican nominee.

Now “we Dems” (as I am one) had the “firehouse primary.” There were more voters – 1,162 attended. Jennifer Wexton won the nomination with 729 votes.  Thus, Jennifer was selected by 6/10th of 1% of the total voting population to be the Democratic nominee.

Less than some student elections!

If you had presented yourself to be a candidate, you would have been strongly “discouraged” by either party.

We need to select our candidates with real primaries drawing upon the entire voter population from outside the insiders’ preferred circle, and to bar false partisans from voting in the “other” party’s primary by requiring party registration.

We need to institute proportional representation voting, meaning you identify your 1st, 2nd and 3rd choices for a candidate, and, when throwing out the low vote candidate, add in the voter’s next choice and so on, re-tabulating until there’s a “winner.”  This method guarantees both partisans and independents will gain representation proportional to their voting strength.

Second, the same contributors face off opposite each other year after year.  For example, the part-time State Senate seat pays $18,000 a year.  But $2.6 million dollars was raised for the 27th State Senate District race run in 2007.  $1.2 Million was raised in the last election in 2011 for Senate District 33.  It’s an orgy of inside players paying for their forced choice to win; we need campaign funding limits that presently don’t exist in Virginia.

Third, who represents you is predetermined by a line drawn on a map by the party in control of the legislative chamber that seeks to perpetuate its control.  We talk after every ten-year census about creating independent commissions to draw these lines fairly – but it doesn’t happen; it must.

Fourth, that ocean of money the contributors pour into campaigns distorts the public dialogue with manipulative propaganda forcing the choice each party promotes.  Paid purveyors of fear and hate, by half-truths and lies, tear apart the opposing candidates, driving voters to hesitate to vote, burying voters in tons of disinformation, and gossamer-thin, airy ambiguities about what they might really do about jobs, transportation, education, health, or anything else.

Fifth, we have more laws, rules and methods to shrink absentee voting, same day voting, and to bar the door to voting at all for some; we must strike these unconstitutional constraints on the right to vote.

This is a hit list of how we can make our vote count so our government is truly by all the people – and not just the select few who would manipulate who may represent us.

8 thoughts on “Our Closed Political System

  1. Reader

    Proportional representation is a sure-fire way to political instability and indecisiveness. Where has it worked in an anglophone nation? Where has it worked successfully anywhere, for that matter?

    Campaign funding limits haven’t work and never will. We do need transparency, but having legislators and bureaucrats determine what’s fair or legal is illusory. Free speech is more important, in fact, primary.

    Decennial redistricting is inherently political, even if an “independent” commission draws the lines.

  2. Pariahdog

    Campaign funding limits haven’t work and never will. We do need transparency, but having legislators and bureaucrats determine what’s fair or legal is illusory. Free speech is more important, in fact, primary.

    Reader, is there evidence for your sweeping declaration? I don’t believe there is. In fact, all three of your sentences are false.

    1. The Citizens United ruling resulted in huge infusions of non-transparent capital, propaganda, and coordination across corporate-funded right-wing groups that swept TEA party ideologues into offices at the national, state and local levels, resulting in increased division and corruption, and decreased effectiveness.

    2. Legislators write laws. They do determine what is legal. If you want to find bureaucrats, see the 5-person group that orchestrated the Park View Republican mass meeting that nominated John Whitbeck.

    3. If money == speech, then corporations and people with more money have more speech. That’s not democracy, it’s corporatism.

  3. liz

    Reader,
    Campaign finance laws seem to work pretty well in England. And why must it be an anglephone country? You’ve got something against people who don’t speak English?

    Pariahdog did a great job parsing your second paragraph.

    And redistricting does not need to be political, there are other places that use independent commissions and computer generated maps.

  4. veezil77@verizon.net

    1. One person’s propaganda is another’s truth. Money is not speech. Do you want government deciding what you can say, write, advocate, or create as art? Isn’t that why have a Bill of Rights. Free speech is foremost. I myself find the TEA party movement at times repulsive, but I don’t want government denying those people their say, however offensive I may find it.

    2. In the UK and in Canada, government, including the courts, can prohibit inquiry and expression. Neither has a written constitution like ours. The Canadian Charter of Rights was enacted Parliament and can thus be revoked by Parliament. Our Congress cannot alter the Bill of Rights.

    3. “The Citizens United ruling resulted in huge infusions of non-transparent capital, propaganda, and coordination across corporate-funded right-wing groups that swept TEA party ideologues into offices at the national, state and local levels, resulting in increased division and corruption, and decreased effectiveness.”
    Your statement is sweeping and unfounded. You have shown no correlation between the Supreme Court’s ruling and the election of people you don’t like.

    4. Few Americans, I’d wager, would accept the stringent, sometimes draconian, restrictions that British law imposes on elections.

    The only way to maximize democracy is to ensure openness. The Federal government’s administration of elections has been a joke. I too would like a civil, rational, discourse in campaigns, but it has never happened in this nation’s history and never will. Our democracy is messy, but better than another system.

  5. John Flannery

    I’ve been writing what I think about law and politics – and, for good or bad, many of you well know of my inclinations to do so – and I appear in “controlled” environments where I arm wrestle with others about the “issues of the day” but I thought I’d add another harmonic and experiment with youtube some – and this is my first “New Year” entry – http://youtu.be/w5ICrZX1k8o – and it’s about our closed political system for others to “chew on.”

  6. Pariahdog

    Reader/Veezil77,

    Regarding Citizens United, I’ve seen the ads on television, social media and print media, and I’ve seen the impact right here in our back yard. I looked at Dave LaRock’s campaign finance reports and traced the funding pack to Super PACs. Take a look yourself. What do you think the “Dominion Leadership Trust, Middle Resolution PAC and Majority Leader PAC are, and where do you think the RPVA got $110K to donate to LaRock.

    Reports about campaign finance impact abound. Open your eyes.

    By the way, unlike my informed observation, your statement “Our democracy is messy, but better than another system,” is unfounded, right, because “another” includes the universe of all other possibilities.

  7. liz

    So, because Britain (an anglephone country!) has some laws that wouldn’t work for us, we can’t model any law of ours on one of theirs that might? I guess that means we should throw out the bicameral legislature. And the right of trial by jury. And a professional police force.

    In their system, the government gives all parties to an election a set limit on what they can spend. It’s enough to buy stamps and lit and posters. The TV stations give free air time, the same amount for all parties to an election. It’s a fair and level playing field for parties to get their messages out. That sounds pretty Democratic to me.

    How does it benefit our system for candidates and electeds to spend any time fundraising? Each minute on the phone asking for a dollar is a minute not spent at a door talking to a voter. But in our system, that’s the only way to get enough funds to pay for all the things a campaign needs. Unless the candidate is immensely wealthy and can self-fund.

    This means institutional donors, PACs, etal, have a much larger impact on elections than they should. And it also leaves open opportunities for corruption.

    Taking the money out of the election equation might not change anything for the better, but it couldn’t very well change it for the worse.

  8. David Dickinson

    Money in politics is a tough nut to crack.

    My suggestion is to not have candidates take any money at all and, instead, all monies are contributed to the individual race. That is, you’d make a donation to the 33rd Senate District race and not to an individual candidate. The Board of Elections would take the additional duty of collecting funds. In the end, they’d be disbursed equally amongst all viable candidates (over say 10% of the vote).

    The advantages of this are 1) Politicians can stop wasting time fundraising and concentrate on actually doing the work they are elected to; 2) It gets the money influence out of politics because it greatly diminishes the influence of donations and those that make them.

    Of course, the reason we have so much money in politics is because people want to influence politicians and that is the primary reason that this will probably never get the light of day.

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