Only one thing stands in the way of open pri­maries

The Denver Post - - OPINION - By Me­gan Schrader Me­gan Schrader (mschrader@den­ver­post.com) is a Den­ver Post ed­i­to­rial writer and columnist. Fol­low her on Twit­ter: @Me­ganSchraderDP

This year nearly 1.4 mil­lion Coloradans voted to open up pri­mary elec­tions to un­af­fil­i­ated vot­ers, but in 2017 it will be about 1,000 party faith­fuls and elected of­fi­cials who will de­cide whether to fol­low along.

Un­der Propo­si­tion 108, the bal­lot ques­tion vot­ers ap­proved in Novem­ber by a 53-47 mar­gin, pri­mary elec­tions will be open to un­af­fil­i­ated vot­ers for the first time.

No longer will a voter have to reg­is­ter as a Demo­crat or a Repub­li­can to have a say in who the party puts forth for the gen­eral elec­tion. Un­af­fil­i­ated vot­ers are now free agents who can spend time in both dugouts scout­ing the best can­di­dates and pick a side to bat for on game day.

But there is a sin­gle vote stand­ing in the way of that glo­ri­ous re­al­ity for would-be party jumpers.

Be­cause po­lit­i­cal par­ties are pri­vate mem­ber­ship or­ga­ni­za­tions, they have the abil­ity to opt out of the tax­payer-funded pri­mary elec­tion and to in­stead put their can­di­dates on the gen­eral elec­tion bal­lot through a cau­cus or assem­bly sys­tem.

It would re­quire 75 per­cent of a party’s cen­tral com­mit­tee to opt out of Propo­si­tion 108. Cen­tral com­mit­tees are com­posed of about 500 party loy­al­ists who are elected of­fi­cials, party of­fi­cials, or com­mit­tee mem­bers se­lected at cau­cuses in March the year be­fore or at county re­or­ga­ni­za­tion meet­ings com­ing in 2017.

Never be­fore have these ar­cane and ob­scure cen­tral com­mit­tee ap­point­ments and meet­ings mat­tered so much.

This small drama within the par­ties is a symp­tom of a larger cri­sis afoot as both par­ties grap­ple with a core-shak­ing 2016 cau­cus and gen­eral elec­tion that left them try­ing to un­der­stand Don­ald Trump sup­port­ers on one side and Bernie San­ders sup­port­ers on the other.

If it all sounds a bit ab­surd — that party lead­ers would re­ject the will of more than 1 mil­lion vot­ers and in­stead rely on those who gather in school cafe­te­rias across the state at 7 p.m. on a Tues­day — that’s be­cause it would be. It’s not im­pos­si­ble, how­ever. Many of those in power at the mo­ment on both sides of the aisle got there by ap­peal­ing to the base of their party vot­ers who par­tic­i­pate in cau­cuses, not the 1.1 mil­lion un­af­fil­i­ated vot­ers who are now re­quired to be al­lowed to vote in a pri­mary.

A move­ment to re­ject Propo­si­tion 108 would be one of self­p­reser­va­tion for can­di­dates even while be­ing a pub­lic-re­la­tions night­mare for the par­ties.

Pa­trick Davis, who helped run Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s cam­paign in Colorado, said it would be dis­as­trous for the state’s GOP to even con­sider opt­ing out of Propo­si­tion 108.

“There are ele­ments of the Never Trump move­ment in Colorado that were ac­tive dur­ing the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee that are look­ing at be­ing lead­er­ship in the party,” said Davis, who voted against Propo­si­tion 108 but sup­ports the party im­ple­ment­ing it now that it’s law.

If that move­ment is afoot, the ques­tion of who leads the Repub­li­can Party in Fe­bru­ary’s re­or­ga­ni­za­tion meet­ings will be­come cru­cial.

On the Repub­li­can side, two of the can­di­dates mulling a run for state party chair are sup­port open pri­maries even though they op­posed the bal­lot ini­tia­tive.

Cur­rent GOP Chair Steve House said that “both the Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic par­ties in this state are los­ing market share … we have to re­tool how we get vot­ers to join with us.”

Jeff Hays, El Paso County Repub­li­can Party Chair, said the party needs to “reach out to those un­af­fil­i­ated vot­ers in a very strate­gic way. We re­ally need to build re­la­tion­ships with them through the pri­maries.”

Or­ga­nized op­po­si­tion to open pri­maries hasn’t ma­te­ri­al­ized yet on the Demo­crat’s side.

Colorado Demo­cratic Chair­man Rick Pala­cio an­nounced in Novem­ber he wouldn’t seek re­elec­tion. For­mer state Sen. Mor­gan Car­roll is be­ing called a pos­si­ble can­di­date in the race and like Hays and House she has said she op­poses Propo­si­tion 108.

This de­bate doesn’t im­pact Propo­si­tion 107, which in­de­pen­dently cre­ated a pres­i­den­tial pref­er­ence pri­mary open to un­af­fil­i­ated vot­ers, but it im­pacts pri­mary elec­tions for ev­ery other can­di­date in the state.

It’ll be a crit­i­cal de­ci­sion for the cen­tral com­mit­tees next year as they de­cide what to do with the will of the vot­ers and who to elect to nav­i­gate these tough times for our ma­jor par­ties.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.