Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Democrats for Free Ballot Access in Texas? Not really

As the story about the Texas GOP being so scared that Libertarian candidates shaving off 5% here or 3% there might cost it control of the House is picked up by media outlets all over the Lone Star State, finally we hear from the Texas Dems.

From the Houston Chronicle:

The Texas Democratic Party and the Texas House Democratic leadership just weighed in with harsh words for Speaker Tom Craddick and Republican efforts to get Libertarians to drop out of legislative races this year.

Democratic Chairman Boyd Richie said it was inappropriate for Craddick's chief of staff to host a meeting in a state office to discuss the political landscape.

Speaker Craddick has resorted to using his official taxpayer funded staff in order to strong-arm Libertarian challengers into dropping out of races. It clear Republicans see the writing on the wall and are terrified they will lose seats once again this November.

"Using taxpayer funded state employees to manipulate an election is unethical and a betrayal of the public trust," said Texas Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie. "While Speaker Craddick's antics are unfortunate and seriously undermine our electoral process, shady dealings like these are simply what Texans have come to expect from Republican politicians."

Democratic caucus Chairman Jim Dunnam said Craddick "has truly sunk to a new low, using state employees to try and buy people directly off the ballot." Dunnam said Craddick is desperate to hold onto power.

"This latest stunt is another sad attempt by Tom Craddick to cling to his 'absolute' power. His attempts to urge qualified candidates off the ballot are just plain wrong. While there is little doubt that he is desperate to save his own political hide, this saga raises further questions about Tom Craddick's misuse of state resources and his taxpayer-funded staff to pursue his personal political agenda," Dunnam concluded.

This would be a positive move, if it weren't equally as self-serving as the GOP effort to remove Libertarians from the ballot. The Texas Democrats have no interest in opening up the political process to third parties in the name of stronger representative democracy, and you can bet that if the Libertarians were threatening Dem incumbents, many shoes would be worn on other feet.

You can listen to LPT Executive Director interviewed about this issue by the Chronicle here. Wes makes the point that it is pretty transparently hypocritical for Texas GOPers to ask Libertarians to step down in order to help the GOP save smaller government, when for the last decade the Republicans haven't been the party of small government. Definitely worth a listen.

But Benedict's interview only skirts by the bigger issue (even though he does discuss growing the party), which is that political parties capable of garnering 4-5% are a whole different category of creature than those stuck at 1-2%. In today's world, 4-5% as often as not represents the decisive difference between the Demopublican candidates, and a huge chunk of the Independent vote that both covet. In Parliamentary systems, a party managing 4-5% would have seats in the legislature and a junior partnership in a multi-party coalition.

It becomes critical for the two major parties (starting with the one most immediately affected) to prune back a third party consistently showing 4-5%, because the next step is 7-8%. At a 7-8% average, you will occasionally get a candidate capable of grabbing a plurality against weak Demopublicans or in strange circumstances. At a consistent 7-8%, the Libertarian Party would be in position to actually win a Congressional seat somewhere in the next decade.

This is scary stuff--this year especially to Republicans, whose brand has been seriously damaged by eight years of Constitution-shredding and adventurous foreign wars under Dubya.

Keep your eye on Texas, North Carolina, and Georgia.

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