The Capital Times has it right: neither the Dems nor the Repubs should try to “clear the field” for a “favored candidate.” The practice of doing this, which we’ve seen the Republicans do to clear the way for the known unknown Ron Johnson.
The Democrats are apparently doing it as well. Case in point is the seat Rep. Dave Obey is leaving after his many decades of service, where State Senator Julie Lassa of Stevens Point has apparently been somehow “chosen” as the “favored candidate.” And it’s happening closer to home, with pressure coming from the Democratic Party to try to preserve state Sen. Plale from a likely challenge by Milwaukee County Supervisor Chris Larson.
Wisconsin’s voters should decide which candidates will face off in the general election. And we have all the tool we need to do that, in the form of primary elections. Primaries are designed for challenges between intra-party candidates, be they an incumbent, or people hopping for the chance to win an open seat. In the non-partisan race* that I was in back in 2008, the primary worked. It narrowed the four candidates to two, who faced off in the general. From that we gained the capable leadership of Supervisor Larson.
Some candidates will destroy their own chances of winning. Witness the fiddling candidacy of multimillionaire Terrence Wall. Millionaire Wall’s legal but questionable lack of income tax effectively did him in. Dick Leinenkugel served in the Democratic Doyle administration until the weeks before announcing his candidacy to run against Senator Feingold as a Republican. But he found rough welcomes in the inflexible eyes, ears, and minds of right wing radio listeners. These things seem to have played out relatively normally, as normal as anything in the circus of inanity that is contemporary politics. And they could have played out right up to the September primary election, when Republican voters would have chosen which candidate they wanted to face Senator Feingold. Instead, Wall and Leinenkugel dropped out at the Wisconsin Republican convention. Ron Johnson will still have to face a true grassroots candidate, Dave Westlake, in the primary. Westlake doesn’t have millions of dollars to throw at his campaign, as does Mr. Johnson. (I bet Westlake also doesn’t think the child molestation scandal in the Catholic church is primarily a financial problem.)
So, save for the following asterisks, let’s make this short. When multiple candidates emerge in an election, they are naturally thinned by the primary. The dominant political parties do themselves a disservice by limiting the field and forcing out candidates who are not preferred by the party establishment. That behavior undermines our democratic system.
* We have non-partisan municipal elections in Wisconsin due to the success of the Milwaukee Socialists in the 1930s. The Milwaukee Socialists actually improved life in the city, helping people live and live well. The famous, award-winning Milwaukee County Park System is the shining legacy of Milwaukee socialism. (It’s no wonder Scott Walker has sought to destroy it.) The two dominant parties got together and decided they needed to do something to undermine the Socialists before they got too powerful. So they had their legislators pass a law that instituted non-partisan municipal elections in Wisconsin. With that, a Socialist would no longer be identified as a Socialist on the ballot. With that, socialism started to be forgotten, and with the staging of the Cold War, socialism got a bad name that largely continues to this day. (The horrors of Joseph Stalin’s regime and the imitators such as Mao Zedong that followed his path are also at the core of this belief.) In this way, the parties narrowed the window of democratic possibilities and undermines our democratic system.