An Anti-Liberty Amendment

This week Maryland Republican Party 1st-Vice Chairman Collins Bailey floated an idea out through email that would severely limit participation in the Republican Primary Process.

In an email to undisclosed recipients, Bailey suggested that the Maryland Republican Party ask for an amendment to state law that would allow parties to choose their candidates in a hybrid Caucus/Primary system like the one used in Utah.

Bailey’s email states:

Are you familiar with the way the primary process is done in Utah? Utah has a pre-primary caucus that votes on the candidates for all offices. The candidates that receive the top two votes go on to the primary. If any candidate receives 60% of the vote or more, they go straight to the general election.  

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The bullets below are some of the reasons why we may want to consider passing a resolution requesting the state legislature to allow the Republican Party more options in how we do our primary process. Currently, Mike Miller and Mike Busch have more say in the tools we can use to promote our candidates than the Republican Central Committees throughout the state.  

Every candidate needs a fair hearing. It is harder to recruit candidates today than it should be for many reasons. One challenge is that candidates did not feel they had sufficient opportunity to get their message out. Or that it is too expensive to do so.

While Bailey is correct that Legislative leadership has more of a say in candidate selection processes than party leadership does, the rest of the premse seems questionable. The idea that every candidate needs a “fair” hearing assumes that candidates right now do *not* get a fair hearing.

Bailey continues:

We need more grass roots supporters and more free media.  * Every state seems to have a little different way (or in some cases a very different way) of doing their elections. Utah is a very interesting study. If we were to somewhat modify our primary process, we could experience some major improvements for the citizens and candidates in Maryland. 

* States that have caucuses or conventions end up with more conservative representatives in their elected offices. States that have primaries tend to have more liberal representatives. 

That is simply not the purview of the state party leadership. The state party has a responsibility to ensure that the party fields candidates for every seat, not to pass a litmus test for each the viability of each candidate. While I certainly want to nominate solid conservative Republcans in each seat, those decisions are left with Republican primary voters?

 * Citizens can be better informed. In a process where there would be a pre-primary convention, anyone that wanted to be well informed about what the candidates stood for would be able to obtain that information in a very citizen friendly manner. 

Bailey makes no case as to how changing our candidate selection process to the Utah model is going to bring this about. Candidates currently reach out to voters of all Republican stripes prior to a primary election. Good candidates are often more than willing to talk with voters about their concerns, particularly in smaller districts, well in advance of the primary election. How is a convention process going to make this easier?

* Good candidates would have more opportunities to get their message out. When a candidate has to communicate to all 5.8 million Marylanders in order to get their message out, money often decides who the nominee and/or representative will be. If all candidates had the opportunity to make their case at a convention prior to the primary, like is done in Utah, it would be a great help to their campaigns. 

Again, how is that different than it is now? Good candidates have a variety of avenues to get their message out. They can rely on grassroots activism, or they can raise money and use paid media to get the message out there. Also, Bailey’s argument that “a candidate has to communicate to all 5.8 million Marylanders” is completely unfactual if only because there are only approximately 4.6 million Marylanders of voting age and beyond that there are less than one million registred Republican voters in the state of Maryland. A candidate trying to seek even a statewide nomination who is trying to reach all 5.8 million Marylanders prior to securing a nomination is, to be blunt, doing it wrong.

* Incumbents and candidates that have the respect of the people and/or broad support can save their resources for the general election if they receive 60% of the vote at the pre-primary convention or caucus if a Utah type model were done here in Maryland. 

Incumbents and candidates “that have the respect of the people”, Orwellian langauge aside, should not be scared off by the idea of a primary election. While Bailey saus that such a candidate can “save their resoruces for the general election” he choose to ignore the amount of resources that have to be spent in preparing for a convention in the first place.

* Party nominees would have more time to get ready for the general election. In the past our nominees were not picked until September, leaving only 7 weeks until the general election. If a pre-primary convention or caucus were held months before the primary, candidates would have much more time to get ready for the general, making republican challengers more competitive against incumbent democrats. 

This point doesn’t even make sense. The primary election is scheduled for the first Tuesday in April in Presidential years and the fourth Tuesday in June during non-Presidential years. Bailey’s point about the old September primary is a non-sequitur. However, if you really want to be concerned with the calendar, can you imagine our General Assembly members having to spend time preparing for a convention during a General Assembly session?

* This system could produce a ton of party workers. Every successful campaign needs volunteers. A pre-primary convention or caucus like is done in Utah would be a great way to funnel a ton of volunteers toward the party nominees and/or the candidates chosen to participate in the primary. 

Prove that this has worked in the past. The idea that people who are not already involved in the party would be interested in spending a Saturday at a party convention seems awfully curious.

* This system would go a long way to helping fill all positions so that all general election candidates would have a challenger. In our last election we had 10 persons run for United States Senate. If our election process were like Utah’s, the top two vote getters would have gone on to the primary. Those not receiving the top two votes may consider running for an office that does not have a Republican candidate.

One of the few points that isn’t totally absurd in this piece is the idea that this helps fill the ballot. However, under Bailey’s system, all of the spots on the balot would be filled by the conventions themselves and there would be no place for these failed candidates to be slotted into after they failed to secure the nomiation at the convention.

Bailey is proposing that the Maryland Republican Party at its Spring Convention adopt a resolution proposing to submit to the General Assembly a legislative change proposal that would allow the parties to implement this Utah system in Maryland. I cannot think of an idea more dangerous to participatory primary elections than this one.

Think about this. In the 2010 Maryland Republican Primary Elections 278,792 people cast their vote in the Republican Primary. At the 2013 Virginia Republican Party conventinon, in a state with a larger population and more Republicans then Maryland, only 8,041 Republicans participated at the State Party Convention. That convention ultimately nominated E.W. Jackson for Lt. Governor, who was was a controversial and weak candidate. How weak? When he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2012 and Virginia held a primary instead of a convention, Jackson received just 4.7% of the vote.

Tell me how limiting participation in the process is a positive thing.

What Bailey’s proposal seeks to do is to take the power away from registered Republcians at the ballot box and instead hand it over to party insiders who have a vested interest in the process. While the primary election system is by far perfect, it does require that candidates interact directly with voters and prove their electoral viability at the ballot box prior to taking on the Democrats in the General Election. Bailey’s proposal takes that requirement away.

Bailey’s proposal does, however, do a lot of things. Not many of them good:

  • It requires campaigns to focus on appeasing party insiders as opposed to spreading their message to the voting public;
  • It requires campaigns to spend more money on trying to secure the nomination than they do in spreading that message and doing what can be done with earned and paid media to win elections, both in the primary and the general election.
  • It provides greater incentives for intersts groups to coalesce in an effort to take over party machinery to ensure that their candidates get preferenetial treatment during the candidate selection proccess; and, worst of all;
  • It takes the power of candidate selection away form the voters and instead hands it over to party cliques.
For all of this talk about supporting liberty, Collins Bailey’s proposed change proposal sure does have an anti-liberty flair to it. Instead of keeping power concentrated in the hands of the people where it belongs, Bailey wants to dilute that power to give a disproportionate share of candidate selection over to insider cliques. And that is no way to ensure that we have the best candidates possible in order to win elections, or the best way to ensure that our party sticks up for its core principles.

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