Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Party Interference: Just Say No

I'm going off-topic today to mention something I find vexing. One of the missing elements in our political process is vigorous challenge to incumbent officials. It should not surprise us that an amazing number of incumbents are reelected. Something like 98 percent of house members, and 85 percent of Senators, were reelected in 2002. I don't have the 2004 figures in front of me, but I'm sure they are comparable. ( Here is a cool website that allows you to research campaign spending and success of candidates in national races:

The fundraising advantage is one reason. The opensecrets site above illustrates the tremendous advantage of the incumbent. It makes sense when you figure that these people have their hands on the fiscal tap, and lately they have been keeping the money flowing. If you can get elected and just not make too many waves with constitutents, chances are you get to keep your job.

Sometimes an outsider will make waves, however, and from my perspective waves are good. They keep the beach from filling up with filthy, rotting, smelly fish. (You can stretch that analogy to your elected officials if you wish.)

However, when the waves come in an internecine struggle known as a primary challenge, the party officials get nervous. A primary challenge can weaken an incumbent by dividing the electorate, usually by exposing something about the incumbent's record that rankles even the party faithful. That gives a better chance to the opposition party, which of course threatens the party establishment.

Despite the tempting rationale for intervention (protecting "our own", and keeping the other guys out), party establishments should stay out of primary challenges. If someone has the political courage to take on an incumbent, the party is ultimately made stronger by this vigorous debate. The political process is improved. And this is not cheap. We should welcome the interjection of this kind of political spending and issue analysis, which can be the only way to get the establishment to take notice on important issues. (Of course, you still take the risk that they will tell you they care, but forget you after they are elected. Wait a minute. This sounds like a speech I should give to my daughters. )

Unfortunately, the establishment can't resist the temptation. Witness the current spectacle of the Republican Senatorial Committee coming to the aid of Lincoln Chaffee (R"INO", RI) in his challenge from mayor Steve Laffey. See a brief account from columnist Tim Chapman here:

If this also frosts your pumpkin (or other appropriate seasonal item), then send a message of support to Laffey and/or, better yet, a message telling the party officials "no soup for you" until they stop this madness. (Of course, we all know it takes money to minister - but I don't want to turn this into a fundraising site for political causes. So, "feel the force, Luke", and do what seems right.) If many of us do something small, it can have a great effect.

Best regards.

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