Sunday, December 14, 2008

What is the role of a political party?

"The right to vote freely for the candidate of one’s choice is of the essence of a democratic society, and any restrictions on that right strike at the heart of representative government." Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 555 (1964).

Yesterday, at the December Whatcom County Republican Party re-organization meeting, I observed former and current party leaders informing certain newly elected Republican PCOs that they will not be seated or allowed to participate in local meetings, despite the fact that each candidates election has been certified by the Whatcom County Auditor. The majority of these candidates were write-in candidates. In other words, no one filed to run for the Precinct Committee Seat in their precinct and voters, who reside in that precinct, wrote in the names of individuals that they believed could represent them at the Central Committee meetings.

Some of the write in candidates tied with write in opponents. For those who could not attend the coin toss at the Whatcom County Auditor's office, party members stepped in to represent them.

For those who have not been following this issue, I have posted a link at the bottom of the page to the U.S. Supreme Court decision that led to the impasse.

It is my understanding, after speaking with Shirley Forsloff, (Whatcom Co. Auditor) that the WA State Legislature intends to re-adopt legislation to re-enact the 10% requirement to be elected as a PCO." A state law that Mrs. Forsloff stated was nullified by the U.S. Supreme Court decision issued in March of 2008.

One of the reasons cited by the political parties for wanting to control candidate self-identification in the lawsuit is the desire to avoid the embarrassment of one party or the other being saddled with a "David Duke-like candidate." You know, someone who is associated with the Ku Klux Clan or a similar organization.

For the record, I did not observe any "David Duke-like candidates" sitting in the back row with the rejected PCOs. However, I did meet a number of sincere, earnest, law-abiding young men (two who are in their 80's) who attended the meeting because they want to participate as Republicans.

What is their crime? They are former Ron Paul supporters.

And here lies the heart of the problem. The Whatcom County Republicans appear to want to determine who is and who is not considered a Republican, based on which candidate an individual supported in the last Presidential election.

Hm. Last time I checked, Ron Paul was listed as a Republican. Albeit, a conservative Republican. But nevertheless, a Republican.

In contrast, what do the Whatcom County Democrats have to say in regard to party membership? "The Central Committee shall be open to all who support the party and wish to be known as Democrats. All members shall enjoy equal rights, protections and opportunities in all proceedings. Discrimination on the basis of sex, race, age (except where state or federal law precludes participation), religion, sexual orientation, economic status or ethnic origin is prohibited in the conduct of Central Committee business."

Which brings us back to my original question. What is the role of a political party? Political parties traditionally provide voters who share similar ideas the ability to join with others to express their opinions.

Americans have a long-standing tradition of political self-identity. Individual voters, (people, not political parties), determine individual political and party affiliations. Or, lack thereof.

In other words, we are not assigned a political affiliation or ideology with our social security cards at birth.

Factions and parties form because people disagree philosophically; conflict and differences of opinion seem to be a natural part of the political process and allow factions to work together to build political coalitions, party platforms and elect like-minded candidates.

Suppressing disagreement, or prohibiting peaceful forms of conflict, can often lead to a loss of liberty. If dissenting views are denied the right to be heard, then a party runs the risk of becoming dysfunctional and dissenting views are crushed before anyone has time to examine them.

Brenda Wahler, of Montana State University says, "The genius of the American model of democracy allows people to freely express what they think, thus working out conflicts with words instead of weapons. By necessity, consensus and compromise are embedded into the American system.

No one side will always win, and some people will disagree with the majority. But, if everyone has had a say, and the rights of the minority are respected, then most people are willing to accept the decisions made, using peaceful means to express any differences that may remain."

The old guard Republicans in charge of the meeting (who are also self-identified Republicans) not only refused to allow the newly elected Republican Precinct Committee Officers to participate in the December re-organization meeting. They refused to allow all disenfranchised PCOs (even one of their own former party vice chairs) the right to address the group during the floor discussion regarding this matter.

First, censoring individuals who had expressed a sincere interest to participate in local party politics; and, second, thwarting the voter's right to freely choose candidates to represent them at the Whatcom County Republican Party Central Committee.

Which brings to mind two quotes on the act of censorship of ideas:

If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all." ~ Noam Chomsky

"Thought that is silenced is always rebellious. Majorities, of course, are often mistaken. This is why the silencing of minorities is necessarily dangerous. Criticism and dissent are the indispensable antidote to major delusions." ~ Alan Barth (served on the editorial board of the Washington Post for 30 years).

FYI: when minority factions are denied the right to be heard, they can and sometimes do, form third parties.

In fact, this is how the modern day Republican Party became a majority party back in 1860, when Abraham Lincoln was elected as President of the United States. The original Republican Party was a "third party" formed out of frustration with the status quo and a growing desire to reform existing public policy.

I can't help but ask, is history about to repeat itself?

And, here's my question for state party officials - (who adopted a resolution to prevent newly elected PCOs who did not receive 10% of the vote from taking office). What on earth are you afraid of? Is your hold on leadership within the party so weak, that you literally fear the introduction of new people or ideas?

Young, vibrant ideas that could help the Republican party re-connect with Washington voters?

What a sad day for Washington State Republicans!

Background documents:

U.S. Supreme Court Syllabus of Washington State Grange v. Washington State Republican Party No. 06-713 Argued October 1, 2007, decided March 18, 2008.
Scotusblog: McKenna's petition for a writ of certiorairi
Other documents of interest:

The Role of the Political Party:

No comments:

Post a Comment