One of the things I admire most about the U.S. political system is that there is a level of ideological freedom for lawmakers not found in many other democracies.
In countries like Canada or the United Kingdom with parliamentary political systems, if a lawmaker votes against the party, the party can kick them out. That way the party maintains “discipline.”
Not here. Voters get to decide who wears the label Democrat or Republican, which can make things uncomfortable sometimes for party leaders, but gives elected officials a level of independence so they can better represent their own constituents and their own beliefs.
Of course, political parties have ways of convincing members of Congress to toe the line, like rewarding them with leadership roles or election support, but the desire to win the majority in Congress often trumps the desire to punish them for voting independently.
That’s why there are Democratic candidates in Wyoming who are more socially and fiscally conservative than some of the Republicans in Connecticut. Our partisans tend to pick up the local flavor and mix it into their political ideology.
And that’s the way it should be in a country as large and diverse as ours — parties should be locally owned and operated.
This level of independence is one reason why I don’t like it when people are called “RINOs” (Republican In Name Only), or “DINOs” (although that name is used less than “Blue Dog Democrat,” a much nicer moniker). Let’s leave it up to primary voters to decide if candidates are too far to the left or right for local sensibilities.
This week former Gov. Lowell Weicker stirred up debate when he argued that Republicans should hold an open primary. Columnist Chris Powell countered that Republicans should keep their primary closed, because, he seemed to be saying, an open primary will further dilute a state Republican Party that already looks a lot like the Democrats.
The state party does seem to want to hover near the center, but it’s hard to blame them. With no Republican statewide elected officials and no representation on the state’s congressional delegation, it is understandable that Republican candidates are nervous to appear too conservative. But having a mushy message isn’t the answer.
I feel torn by the idea of an open primary. I like the idea of getting as many people involved in the primary process as possible — it is where the bulk or our democratic activity takes place. But I agree with Powell that state Republicans need to find and establish their own voice, and an open primary may dilute their ability to do that.
Connecticut Republicans do need to push back against the attitude that they are carbon copies of Republicans in Washington, or that voters should punish Republican candidates here for actions take by Republicans on the federal level.
The day before the 2012 general election, I was listening to Where We Live on WNPR, and host John Dankosky was talking with Ralph Nader. He had this to say about Andrew Roraback, who was running as a Republican in the 5th congressional district:
“You know Andrew Roraback as a very moderate Republican, who holds very liberal stances on many social issues. He’s someone who many people in that 5th district probably would go ahead and vote for, but as someone who is worried about the shape of the U.S. House, would you cast a vote tactically against Andrew Roraback, someone who you know, even though you know who he is, because you don’t want to give another vote to John Boehner?”
When I heard this on the radio I had to pull over because I was so frustrated. Besides the very obvious question of whether a journalist should be making a statement like this the day before the election — and yes, it sounds more like a statement to me than a question — the idea that we should be voting against someone instead of for someone bothered me.
I heard the same sentiment expressed when I lived in Wyoming and other states out west — although out there it was about not electing Democrats in order to keep Nancy Pelosi out of power.
Out west I heard about how extremely liberal voters were in places like Connecticut, and how they were ruining the country. That’s pretty similar to what I hear people here in Connecticut say about Republicans.
Because of this bias, our Republican candidates are already running at a disadvantage before they even open their mouths.
Obviously, I have my own bias. I am a registered Republican. I do support Republican candidates most of the time, but not all of the time. That doesn’t mean I’m a fan of every Republican candidate who comes along. It does mean I let them all have their say.
Suzanne Bates is a writer living in South Windsor with her family. While traveling across the country as an Air Force spouse, she worked for news organizations including the Associated Press, New Hampshire Union Leader and Good Morning America Weekend. She recently completed a research fellowship at the Yankee Institute.