May 192010

We here in Maine nominate our presidential candidates through the caucus/convention process. With that one exception, all other partisan candidates are nominated through primaries. Since our primaries only a few weeks away, lawn signs are popping up here like mushrooms after wet weather. We have five Democrats (one a write-in) and seven Republicans running at the moment, so you can imagine the crop of signs, most of which will be useless (OK, I’ll admit I save the wickets) after the primary.

It occurs to me that, in a time when state budgets are squeezed between a rock and a hard place, when state funding for education is cut forcing local property taxes to make up the difference, when workers are looking at pay cuts, we need to take a long, hard look at our system of primaries.

In 2007, Maine’s Secretary of State considered asking the legislature to cancel the state-funded primaries which, at the time, cost an estimated $300,000. Primaries are strictly partisan activities, and forcing all the voters (including those ineligible to vote in a primary) to pay for them is just plain unjust.

So what’s the answer? Ask the state party organization to pony up the cash? I doubt they could here in Maine. I believe the solution is to look to Utah, in which candidates are chosen in county and state nominating conventions made up of delegates chosen at the local level.

I realize some of you will disagree, and disagree strongly. “Caucuses are inherently undemocratic,” you will say.

Having participated in many of them, I would have to disagree. Any member of the party is invited, public notice is a requirement, and those who cannot be there have the same right to vote absentee as they would in a primary. Becoming a delegate is easy (even in 2008 every alternate ended up being upgraded to delegate), and anyone who can’t afford the $38 cost can get the fee waived. I realize that lots of folks feel that caucuses are some sort of smoke filled room with access granted only to party “insiders” but that honestly hasn’t been my experience. In Maine, spend an afternoon helping stuff envelopes, and you become an insider, I guess.

Nominating through the caucus/convention route would also reduce the cost of getting onto the November ballot enormously, thus empowering candidates who prefer to rely more on small donors than on large corporations.

Finally, particularly in a party which takes grassroots organizing seriously, there would be the great benefit of increased, very personal, participation in the process of choosing a candidate. Attending a caucus where you have a chance to discuss your candidate of choice, and attempt to convince your neighbors to support that candidate, is a wonderful experience and leads to increased levels of volunteerism between nomination and the general election in November. Having volunteers creates more of a level playing field for candidates who don’t want to be beholden to large donors.

So….the cost is lower, both for candidates and taxpayers. Participation is open to the same group of party-affiliated voters who now are permitted to vote in primary elections. Candidates will not need as much corporate money to get on the ballot, since their campaigns will be volunteer-powered (if they prefer to work with the grassroots).

Sounds good to me!

Mar 052010

In March of 2008, Vice President Dick Cheney was interviewed on ABC by Martha Raddatz. During the conversation, Cheney claimed there was a general consensus for our success in Iraq, and Raddatz then asked how this could be, when two-thirds of the American people opposed the war.

Cheney’s now famous answer, “So?”

I certainly remember what it felt like to hear that from someone in charge of our nation’s destiny. I was angry, frustrated, and scared. I wondered, again, how the American voters could have re-elected the Bush-Cheney team in 2004. I wondered what the future of this country would be, if the majority of Americans voted for paternalism (not one of this Pagan’s family values), for “I’m running things and don’t care what anyone else thinks” and for just plain obfuscation (despite the fact that millions of viewers heard that “So?”, sources say it was not included in the transcript of the interview released by Cheney’s office).

Recently, seeing Senator Jim Bunning’s standing in the way of the Senate majority waiting to move on unemployment benefits and bringing construction projects to a halt, I was reminded of the Cheney interview. If you had reminded Bunning, as many did, of the lives he was affecting by becoming a one-person roadblock, his answer would probably also have been “So?”

But wait…Bunning had a point to make. After all, whatever happened to running government on a budget, as we run our businesses and households. If you watch MSNBC (yes, I’m a Rachel Maddow fan) you already know the answer: pay-go was abandoned during the Bush administration, during which Congress dutifully spent us into a huge deficit by passing legislation like tax cuts for the rich with no regard to the cost.

Now, of course, those same members of Congress are standing in the way of health insurance reform, of extending unemployment benefits and repairing our decaying infrastructure, all because they have suddenly decided that, while it was OK under a Republican administration to spend with no regard to matching revenue, we can no longer do it under a Democratic one.

Expect your legislators to be straight about what they believe, and vote accordingly? You can expect it, but what you’ll actually get is “So?”

Now what’s the point of all this? Here’s my thought: we just should not accept that fact that the people we elect can do whatever they (and their lobbyists) please with no accountability. They need to run for election, and they need our votes (and those of most of the people we know) to win.

Politics is a matter of simple math: you get enough votes to win, you get re-elected. Say what you want about stolen elections; I believe that we are still in a position to influence outcomes.

As Pagans, we understand that we are personally responsible for our actions, and for how those actions affect others. The only way the politics of “So?” continues to exist is because we, the voters, also say, “So?” instead of shutting down our computers and our televisions, and getting involved in grassroots organizing.

Think about it.

Then do something about it.