Voters, not politicians, need to decide who runs in 2010

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One of the most sacrosanct principles of modern American democracy is the primary process. In order to keep the old boys and the self-serving power structure from owning it all, we offer people the right to choose not only between the two major parties (and sometimes a needed third party) but we also give them the right to go the primary route in choosing their party’s candidates. In Massachusetts where I live, we have the right to maintain independent status but to vote in either primary. This type of “open” primary offers the voter maximum flexibility and explains why there are so many independent voters in Massachusetts. People want the right to move from party to party and to avoid the elite political corps in both parties.

Voters in New York, however, have to be a registered in either party in order to vote in a primary. “There,” thought the incumbent politicians. “That’ll fix the troublemakers.” Naturally, these denizens of the political deep didn’t stop there. They passed the important but obscure Wilson-Pakula law that precludes a politician who is not a member of a particular political party from running in a party primary without the permission of the party. “Heh, heh, heh,” said the old boys, “that will fix anyone who could make trouble for us by bringing in democracy and fresh air. Who do they think they are, anyway? We’ll make the rules so that only our crowd can win.”

It’s all pretty reminiscent of the Ayatollahs over there in Iran. Hey, human character is human character. It really doesn’t matter whether you are wearing a turban or a business suit. Things don’t change from one place to another. Just look at the popular and powerful United States Senator, Chuck Schumer. One doesn’t want to incur his wrath. If you do, watch out. Chuck told the newspapers that there wasn’t going to be a Democratic primary for Kirsten Gillibrand’s seat and no less a personage than the president of the United States called the popular Representative Steve Israel and told him not to run.

Now United States Representative Carolyn Maloney is thought to be a primary opponent for Gillibrand and recent polls have shown Maloney beating Gillibrand. Maloney is a far more accomplished legislator. The recent credit card reforms were hers. She’s the chair of the powerful Joint Economic Committee of the House and Senate and she is tough as nails. Not only that, she has always been a woman of principle and, unlike Gillibrand, she doesn’t change her mind on issues like gay rights, gun control and immigration when jumping from one political office to another.

Hey, Governor David A. Paterson had every right to appoint Gillibrand to the Senate pending a special election but this is a case where a primary is needed more than ever to let the people have their say. I’ve already seen what these folks can do when you buck them. The heat is rising. The self-serving political machine is already hard at work trying to dirty me because I think there ought to be a primary.

I really would like the Chuck Schumers and others like him to look in the mirror and ask themselves, “What has become of me? I have always been for the good things. I didn’t get into this business to become a dictator and to fix the game. I’ve worked hard to get where I am. I put a stop to internet scams and other terrible things. I did more to elect a Democratic Senate than anyone else. I can tell the president to call a congressman to stay out of primary. But am I willing, in the name of power, to put a stop to American democracy to have my way?”

Yep, that’s what I’d like him to do in front of a mirror. “Do I want to be known as a good guy who beat the terrible Alfonse D’Amato, Gillibrand’s mentor, or do I want to be “D’Amato Two”? Do I want to use my power to hurt journalists and others who hold opinions that are different from mine, or do I want to be known as a great public figure who helps people?”

I hope Carolyn Maloney runs. But I do believe the people deserve to make the choice, not a few self-serving politicians.

Originally Published in the Legislative Gazette, 7/2/09

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