Democracy Prevailed, Free Association Lost in Last Week's Primaries


Party Faithful

This week's Democratic National Convention is the culmination of a long process of hard work and coordination on the part of Democrats around the nation. And if you participated in the Democratic caucuses last February, you were part of the political process that sent the delegates from our state to Denver.

But as we learned in last week's primary, Washington State’s new Top-Two primary system is putting our ability to associate with a political party in jeopardy. Take, for example, what happened in the county commissioner race in Wahkiakum County, where I am chairman of the county Democrats, and have been associated with the group since attending my precinct caucus for the presidential nomination in 2004.

As a result of the new election law, Democratic party rules changed regarding party nominations, with the party officer (PCO) from each precinct now charged to decide every nominee at a locally organized convention.

As a proponent of the caucus system, I wasn’t enthusiastic about PCO’s determining the nominations. However, the PCO position itself is on the public ballot, and Washington voters were invited to pick the party official for their precinct in last week's primary. To be inclusive, our county party purchased advertising in the local paper. The ad invited any candidate who was interested in the Democratic Party nomination for local office to contact us and engage our process. We also ran notices in the paper inviting people to run for PCO in the August 19th public primary.

We followed all of the State Democratic Party rules and by May 23 nominated a candidate for our local County Commissioner race. In the first week of June, our nominee in the commissioner race filed his intent of candidacy.

We later became aware that someone else had also filed as “prefers Democratic Party” in the commissioner race. Regardless of our nominating process, I was never contacted by this candidate about their intention to run as a Democrat.

The election went its course and our party-nominated candidate didn’t make it in the Top-Two vote getters. But, the candidate who only preferred the Democratic party did.

I don’t have a problem with the will of the voters. Democracy prevailed because individual voters determined their best choice and that was reflected in the counting of ballots. I say it was freedom of association that lost! Why bother to get involved in any local political association when state law has rendered much of the function of a party meaningless?

A lot of hard work and history has gone into establishing a local party with which a candidate can now associate on a ballot with no indication if he or she has been endorsed by the party. As an active member of my local Democratic Party, I've traveled to many of the quarterly State Central Committee meetings. At these events I helped elect a new State Chairman, elect Washington’s members of the Democratic National Committee, and participated in a vote where Washington Democrats chose to ignore the 2008 state presidential primary in favor of conducting a caucus.

At the 3rd Congressional District Convention last spring, a representative from our county party voted for delegates who are attending the Denver convention this week. This representative also voted for our Democratic Party presidential elector - the only person in southwest Washington who will vote for US President if the Democrat wins our state! And it was a Washington DNC member who made the motion that resulted in Florida initially losing all its seats at the Denver Convention.

It’s no coincidence that a political gathering is called a rally. The DNC convention is a way to rally common values and goals. But Washington State’s new Top-Two primary system is making it harder for political association and the culture of political participation to survive.

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