Posted by Jesse Shayne on September 29, 2016 at 11:00 AM
Editorial: Yes on Propositions 107 and 108
The Harvard Business School published its annual look at U.S. economic competitiveness this month and delivered a surprising finding: The biggest drag on the American economy is not an economic problem but a political one.
After reviewing the now-familiar litany of factors restraining more robust economic growth — an eroding business environment, pervasive economic pessimism among many American workers, and median real household income that remains below levels seen at the end of the 20th century — the authors blamed a dysfunctional political system for our inability to address critical needs such as tax reform, immigration reform and rebuilding our infrastructure.
"The U.S. political system was once the envy of many nations," they wrote. "Over the last two decades, however, it has become our greatest liability. Americans no longer trust their political leaders, and political polarization has increased dramatically. Americans are increasingly frustrated with the U.S. political system. Independents now account for 42 percent of Americans, a greater percentage than that of either major party."
A key to this dysfunction is the stranglehold the two major parties have on the national debate. Appealing to their respective ideological bases and special interest groups, Democrats and Republicans are now virtually incapable of reaching compromise solutions for the good of the country.
"Overall, we believe that dysfunction in America's political system is now the single most important challenge to U.S. economic progress," the report's authors wrote.
While many agree with this diagnosis of the problem, solutions have been in short supply. Among the factors often blamed are gerrymandered congressional districts, vast amounts of dark money in the political process, and polarizing, profit-oriented media outlets.
The backers of two propositions on Colorado's November ballot have come up with a different villain, one much easier to combat — the exclusion from the candidate selection process of many of our most moderate citizens.
The solution? Open up the selection process to all voters by establishing primaries in which unaffiliated voters, who now outnumber the members of either major party, may participate. The idea is to give candidates an incentive to appeal to the middle, rather than the extremes, of the political spectrum. Open primaries could also stem the alienation from the political process of younger voters, roughly half of whom decline to affiliate with either major party.
Currently, an unaffiliated Colorado voter must affiliate with a party to participate in its primary. Under Props 107 (establishing a quadrennial presidential primary) and 108 (reforming party primaries for other offices) independent voters may remain unaffiliated and participate in either major party's primary (but not both).
Many of Colorado's most respected leaders, including every living former governor (Dick Lamm, Bill Owens, Bill Ritter, Roy Romer), back the two propositions. Democrats such as Mark Udall, Gary Hart and Federico Peña support it, as do Republicans such as Hank Brown, John Suthers and Josh Penry.
Unfortunately, the two major parties in the Legislature did their best to torpedo the proposals. After all, these measures would dilute the power of the parties to continue to serve their respective special interests and maintain the legislative gridlock that plagues both Congress and the Colorado Legislature.
They managed to insert into the "Blue Book" describing ballot issues the claim that 7 percent of ballots are "likely" to be disqualified based on data from Washington State that includes factors not applicable to Colorado. Among them are Washington voters who failed to check a party affiliation box that won't appear on Colorado ballots and ballots turned in late, which has nothing to do with the open primary system.
We acknowledge that any change in election systems is likely to bring a higher error rate until voters grow accustomed to it. Backers of the measures estimate that 0.51 percent of ballots will be spoiled by unaffiliated voters who receive both parties' ballots and try to vote them both. We think the rate might be higher than that the first time around, but such temporary adjustment pains are no reason to fear a fundamental improvement in access to our candidate selection process. And because these are statutory initiatives, not constitutional amendments, they can be tweaked by statute if necessary.
Props 107 and 108 will enfranchise more than 1 million unaffiliated Colorado voters in a crucial electoral step. The dramatic deterioration of our political system documented in the Harvard Business School report requires remedial measures to wrest that process from ideologues and special interests and return it to the people.
Props 107 and 108 are a smart, constructive step toward that goal. We urge all Colorado voters to emulate the bipartisan spirit of the state's elder statesmen and approve these measures.