Thursday, September 20, 2012

The News Journal publishes my editorial on third parties and debates

You can see it here.

After it was written, however, I was informed that they had reduced the length available to Community Advisory Board members from 750 words down to about 670 words.  I cut the piece down to 668 words and re-submitted it.  Apparently they had other space problems and cut it by about another fifty words before publishing it.  I defend their right to do so, but I wish they had asked me to do it, because I felt that, stylistically, the final published product was way too choppy and left out a couple of key references (I would never, for example, have introduced "Perot and Nader" into a column without characterizing them as "Ross Perot and Ralph Nader"--that's just poor form).

So for masochists and purists, here's the original 750-word version.  If you didn't like my argument, you still won't, but at least it reads a little better IMHO:

            Last week witnessed two important events in Delaware political life: frenzied primaries and the Jewish Federation’s debate for statewide candidates.  
           The primaries re-emphasized that we have become a one-party state.  Undoubtedly, about 4,000 primary voters elected the next mayor of Wilmington, and a slim plurality guaranteed re-election of an Insurance Commissioner disavowed by her own party.  Statewide Republican candidates now consider themselves successful if they achieve 40% of the vote, and the GOP has fielded too few candidates to have any realistic chance to recapture either house of the General Assembly. 
            That’s why the Jewish Federation debate represented a breath of fresh air against the stale, backroom cigar smoke of “the Delaware Way.”  Initially, JFD refused to allow anyone not running as a Democratic or Republican into the event.  (It is never explicitly stated that way in debate requirements, but is clearly understood nonetheless.)  Thankfully, responding to requests from both the Green and Libertarian parties, JFD reversed course, inviting all ballot-qualified candidates to participate. 
            Expanding the field is very much in the interests of democracy and good government in Delaware.  Our three “alternative” parties—the Independent Party of Delaware, Greens, and Libertarians—are each offering important candidates with messages. 
            IPOD US Senate nominee Alex Pires is a fiery entrepreneur and banker from Sussex County.  His impassioned rhetoric about corruption in Washington and the incumbent’s health sometimes overshadows his erudite and on-target analysis of government failures in the banking crisis. 
            Andrew Groff, the Green US Senate nominee, is an educator and small businessman, motivated to run by his experiences with Occupy Delaware.  He is the only candidate talking about environmental issues and advocating national single-payer healthcare. 
            Libertarian Scott Gesty, running for the US House, is a Certified Public Account for a major transnational bank.  His critique of our national budget crisis is devastating.  He is also the only candidate discussing the need to scale back the anti-teacher provisions in Race to the Top. 
            These voices need to be heard.  Left to their own devices, Democratic and Republican hopefuls continually rehash the same sterile, ideological positions that have deadlocked the American political system for years. 
            Absent millions of dollars in corporate donations available to professional politicians to annoy you with endless commercials, the only chance these candidates have to break through is at events like the JFD debate.  Unfortunately, they won’t be offered many more such opportunities. 
            The major statewide candidate debates of the season take place on October 16-17, sponsored by the University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication and Delaware First Media.  Implementing provisions created a decade ago by the Pew Foundation to keep third-party candidates like Ross Perot and Ralph Nader out of presidential debates, UD and DFM have made it politely clear that third-party candidates need not bother trying to be included. 
            Haven’t raised over $120,000 from over 800 people donating at least $50 to your campaign?  Haven’t spent thousands of dollars for a poll showing that you have the support of 10% of the voters?  Your party didn’t receive 40,000 votes in the last election?  According to debate coordinators Ralph Begleiter and Micheline Boudreau, this means you do not deserve a place on the stage. 
            Ironically, Mr. Begleiter cites “the national rules for inclusion” as his defense for eliminating third-party candidates, while ignoring important findings in the original Pew document.  Pew researchers discovered that 53% of voters wanted third-party candidates always included in debates, a sentiment shared by 59% of independents and 61% of voter under thirty.  In follow-up surveys in Virginia and New Jersey, voters confirmed they wanted to hear from all ballot-qualified candidates. 
            So why did the Pew Debate Project recommend inclusion barriers virtually eliminating third-party candidates? 
            The answer is simple:  the Debate Project was a reaction to influential independent candidacies like those of Perot and Nader, who Democrats and Republicans saw as “spoilers” siphoning off votes from their candidates.  The premise is that there are no legitimate candidates except Republicans and Democrats, and your vote belongs to one party or the other. 
            This is certainly the position held by Senator Tom Carper and Congressman John Carney, who both sit on the Advisory Committee of UD’s Center Political Communication that co-sponsors the debates at which they will be isolated from alternative candidates. 
            While Libertarians, Greens, and Independents have their own policy differences, all would agree on two principles.  First, your vote belongs to you, not any political party.  Second, democracy is best served by an inclusive process that allows all ballot-qualified candidates to be heard.


Scott Gesty said...

Very well written Steve. Thank you!

Andrew Groff said...

Steve, Well done. You're the best!