CHRIS POWELL: Open primaries facilitate mischief

Published on Wednesday, 29 August 2018 20:01


Whenever a political party’s primary election nominates a candidate disliked by high-minded people, they consider it a failure of civic structure and propose to prevent recurrences by legislating open primaries, in which unaffiliated voters, not just party members, can vote.

But this diagnosis by the high-minded, made again in Connecticut now because of Bob Stefanowski’s victory in the Republican primary for governor, is mistaken, and the remedy being offered is actually to prohibit parties, which would destroy democracy in the name of saving it.

The problem with Stefanowski’s nomination by the Republicans is not that people outside the party could not block it but that Stefanowski was not chosen by anything close to a majority of Republicans themselves.

He got only 29 percent of the primary vote as the remaining 71 percent was split four ways. The solution is simply a runoff primary or what is called instant runoff voting. Connecticut should have legislated that long ago. With so many candidates for governor this year, anyone could have seen the problem coming.

It is said open primaries would strengthen parties by attracting unaffiliated voters. But affiliating with a party is easy and people decline to do it because they don’t want to get involved. Open primaries also facilitate mischief by giving votes to people who would seek to defeat a party by nominating its weakest potential candidates or candidates who don’t reflect its philosophy.

The best illustration of the potential for mischief in open primaries in Connecticut was a political cartoon drawn in the 1980s when U.S. Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr., a Republican whose alignment with the party was fading, feared that he could lose a primary for renomination and so began advocating open primaries for the party. Weicker had just cozied up to Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, which increased his alienation of Republicans. So the cartoon showed Weicker putting his arm around the bearded El Supremo and urging him: “All you have to do is register Republican long enough to vote in the primary.”

Yes, Connecticut’s political parties have their unfortunate aspects. The Democrats are controlled by the government employee unions and the Republicans are in thrall to gun owners.

But people have a right to organize political parties and, if their membership is large enough, they should have the right to place their candidates directly on the election ballot without the burden of petitioning. There’s a lot more democracy in that than in high-mindedness.

Druggies take the green

Nobody in authority in Connecticut will ever dare to acknowledge, much less address, the real problem behind the mass drug overdoses on the New Haven Green the other day - society’s worsening impoverishment and demoralization.

But New Haven, which is always lecturing the rest of the country on every political issue, should concentrate on policing its own green enough to keep the druggies away and to reclaim the public space.

Since many of the druggies in the mass overdosing quickly returned to the green after being revived by medical treatment and proceeded to overdose again and again, state government should classify such people as dangers to themselves and forcibly hospitalize them in locked wards until they show signs of self-control.

And since one of the men charged with selling the dope in the disaster on the green had 37 prior arrests - another of the many triumphs of Governor Malloy’s “second-chance society” - state government should enact an incorrigibility law imposing life sentences on chronic offenders.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.

Posted in New Britain Herald, Columns on Wednesday, 29 August 2018 20:01. Updated: Wednesday, 29 August 2018 20:03.