New book tackles partisan gridlock

Former Congressman suggests open primary


While Washington has been teetering on the so-called “fiscal cliff,” a new book suggests better ways exist to manage the nation’s affairs.

“The Parties Versus the People” by former Oklahoma Congressman Mickey Edwards points out that the Founding Fathers were generally opposed to political parties. They felt that factionalism would be the undoing of the nation.

Given the current political climate, his view is getting more attention. After all, ask yourself this question: Should your member of Congress or legislator be representing the interests of your entire district or only the interests of his or her political party? Unfortunately, the system has evolved, particularly in the last 30 years, not just to expect partisan conflict, but to encourage it, making citizens secondary to a party’s interests.

Edwards offers changes that would get us back to what the Founding Fathers intended — that our elected representatives would be working in the common interest, not just for partisan advantage.

Unfortunately, a constitutional amendment would be needed to alter the process. That’s unlikely because the people we elect have thrived under the partisan system as it is today. They don’t want things to change, but too many of them are extremists, of either the left or right.

The first thing Edwards would do is create an open or non-partisan blanket primary. This form of primary was most recently adopted in California, and has also been used in Louisiana and Washington.

Today, in Minnesota, you can vote in either the Republican or the Democratic primary, but not both. Edwards’ idea would be to throw the candidates from all parties for a given office together in the primary and then have a run off between the top two finishers.

Some districts are so lopsided that the prevailing party is already known in advance. By having an open primary, the possibility could exist that two Democrats or two Republicans would advance to the general election, or perhaps a Democrat and a Green or a Republican and a Libertarian.

Parties could still endorse candidates, but they would face the likelihood that the candidate who could capture the center of the electorate would be most likely to win.

This is preferable to so-called “ranked-choice voting” that actually encourages extremism.

The second thing Edwards would do is create non-partisan panels to oversee redistricting. Thirteen states have done so, and in Arizona, the governor has the power to “impeach” the head of the independent commission for “gross misconduct.”

The tension in redistricting is between creating “representative” vs. “competitive” districts. The more competitive the districts, the higher the voter turnout. Incumbents, of course, don’t like competition. It makes it harder to keep their jobs.

In Minnesota, the Legislature oversees redistricting, but unless one party controls state government, it almost always ends up in the courts.

As for campaign contributions, Edwards would limit them to be only from individuals who would be constituents, would require all contributions to be direct to candidates so donors can’t hide behind the state party or the “SuperPacs,” would require more free radio and TV time for candidates, etc..

Edwards has plenty of other ideas to dampen the partisanship. Each deserves robust debate, but how many Americans believe the national interest is served well today?

These ideas would make politics more like the Founding Fathers envisioned it: a Congress or Legislature working for the good of all instead of just a political party.

This editorial is a product of the ECM Editorial Board. The Forest Lake Times is a member of ECM Publishers, Inc.