The following is, in part, a commentary I authored in November for the Star Tribune. Instead of using my commentary, they chose one from someone else who spent more time simply attacking the Republican Party. It should surprise no one if the Star Tribune continues to print commentaries criticizing Republican endorsements in the future.
A November 11th commentary authored by Ben Golnik, a former executive director of the Republican Party of Minnesota, called for an end to the state’s process of endorsing Republican candidates for office. He claimed it would make the party’s candidates more electable if Republicans had their right to vote on their endorsement taken away. He failed to mention how exclusionary that policy would be to young people, poor people, and others critical to the sort of broad coalition necessary to win elections.
The endorsing process grants folks at the local level power that party insiders are too accustomed to keeping to themselves. For that reason, the process has been the focus of increasing attacks by party bosses who are not keen on the idea of sharing power.
(Update: Janet Beihoffer, Minnesota’s one committeewoman on the Republican National Committee, came over to talk to me, Julie Quist, and a few other people after our party’s State Central Committee meeting last Saturday. She informed us that she does not support the endorsement process. It is ironic that she wants to take the right to vote away from the very people who voted for her. It seems similar to the concept of many other leaders who became presidents for life after getting elected.)
One incident out of recent memory occurred at the Republican National Convention held in August, where some members of the party proposed a rule that allowed our presidential nominee to kick out convention delegates who would not have voted for him. The Minnesota delegation opposed the change, in part because it was targeted at us. Many of our delegates supported Ron Paul for president; under the rule, Mitt Romney would have been given the right to say that he didn’t want our votes counted.
Unfortunately, these kinds of policies are precisely what Republicans like Mr. Golnik envision as being good for our party. They want the GOP to put up wealthy, powerful candidates, or none at all. Other candidates could represent values with which establishment Republicans may not agree.
The caucus system that Mr. Golnik condemns, whereby members of a party must show up on the first Tuesday evening of February in election years in order to begin the process of nominating their party’s candidates, enables everyone to participate. The young, the poor, school teachers like former Senate candidate Kurt Bills – anyone and everyone – is able to show up and cast an equal vote affecting the future of their party. Candidates need not be wealthy to participate in a process that is so dominantly characterized by neighbor-to-neighbor interactions.
In the primary system Mr. Golnik advocates, only the wealthy and powerful may participate. To run for a seat in the legislature, a person will no longer be able to show up on caucus night, introduce themselves to a few hundred people, and have a chance of running a successful bid. They’ll need to run straight through a primary election held in August, where political action committees will spend anything from $20,000 to $50,000 to influence the outcome.
So you’re a school teacher? Good luck coming up with that kind of money on a chance to win an election. Or you’re one of the 30 percent of young people who voted against Barack Obama in 2012? Don’t let the door hit you on your way out of the Republican Party. If you think you aren’t welcome now, wait for pay-to-play.
Unless, of course, you can get political consultants like Mr. Golnik to spend thousands of dollars supporting your candidacy. The money is there and will be spent – it is just a question of whether it will be for or against you. Our present system helps candidates to overcome the enormous financial resources working against them. A primary system means that who will win and who will lose will be entirely up to party overlords. That will be good for Mr. Golnik, but bad for Minnesota.
The processes of caucusing and endorsing are not weaknesses of the Republican Party. Allowing self-described Republicans to vote is not a weakness of the Republican Party, either. The Republican Party has been suffering electorally because its elite have a problem with broad participation. They want people’s votes without having to share power, and without having to represent the people voting for them. They try to run the party like an oligarchy, but then wonder why they can’t win elections. It makes one wonder how they could ever represent conservative principles in government when they are not even able to represent them within the party.