Democrats, Republicans join forces to prevent Floridians from changing rules of political game - Open Primaries
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Democrats, Republicans join forces to prevent Floridians from changing rules of political game

Posted by Russell Daniels on October 28, 2019 at 10:20 PM

Democrats, Republicans join forces to prevent Floridians from changing rules of political game

written by John Opdycke for the Sun Sentinel 

Bipartisan cooperation is alive and well. Which should scare the hell out of us.

Bipartisan once implied productive cooperation, left and right coming together to build roads, shore up the safety net, compromise on immigration policy, etc.

Nowadays it means the Democrats and Republicans joining forces to prevent Floridians from changing the rules of the political game.

Bipartisan cooperation is on full display here in Florida. A citizen’s group called All Voters Vote gathered petitions and submitted for review by the Florida Supreme Court a referendum to establish a nonpartisan “top-two” public primary election system.

The new system allows all voters to participate and vote for whatever candidates they like, regardless of party. It would replace the state’s highly unpopular closed primary that locks out 3.7 million independent voters from taxpayer-funded partisan primaries.

The parties themselves would no longer oversee the primaries. This form of primary is in place in Nebraska, Washington, and California, and voters like it. States around the country, from Alaska to Maine, are considering it.

It’s hard to change the system in Florida. All Voters Vote needs to gather 1.1 million signatures and then win 60 percent voter approval for the new system to become law.

But the leaders of the Democratic and Republican Parties don’t believe it should be up to the voters. Both parties submitted lengthy legal briefs urging the Court to prevent the measure from appearing on the ballot.

The Democratic brief asks the Court to protect the parties, not the voters. “The proposed amendment does not inform voters that it implements a fundamental change in political parties’ right to freedom of association. It does not state that it is changing a century-old system. It does not advise voters that it makes the party-nominating process illusory because primaries will no longer nominate candidates chosen by the party’s own members. It creates precipitous and cataclysmic change.”

Here’s the Republican legal argument: “This free-for-all, anything goes, multi-partisan primary system has been aptly dubbed a jungle primary. As one commentator recently observed, ‘every other election year, it’s the law of the jungle.’”

Political sage Bill Cotterell put it brilliantly in a recent column for the Tallahassee Democrat: “If there’s one thing Democrats and Republicans can unite behind, it’s the idea that what’s good for them is good for Florida — for America, for history, for all of humanity.”

This is the tragedy of contemporary American politics. Both parties insist that what’s good for them is good for the country. The parties don’t see themselves as private organizations or special interests. They see themselves as what is and what will always be.

About 45 percent of the American people may identify as independents, and tens of millions of Democrats and Republicans may yearn for a different approach to political discourse and lawmaking, but there is no room for otherness in contemporary politics.

You may detest how we govern, both parties tell us. You may abhor our endless warfare. But if you try to step around us, if you try to change the system that we designed, we will join forces to crush you.

Bipartisan cooperation. Public disdain for politics-as-usual (83 percent of Americans assert that “the country is run by an alliance of incumbent politicians, media pundits, lobbyists and other powerful money interest groups for their own gain at the expense of the American people.”) shows up in polls but is largely ignored by conservative and liberal pundits alike because it doesn’t fit the dominant narrative.

Even so, public demand for change has fueled dozens of state-based initiatives to overhaul the system. A growing “change the system” movement is pushing for gerrymandering and debate reform, transparency, alternative voting systems like ranked-choice voting and approval voting, vote-from-home, mobile voting, and dozens of other changes, large and small. Some reformers are focused on incentivizing effective legislating by changing Congressional rules.

In Florida and many other states, efforts are underway to end the party control of the primary process, one of the principal ways the parties ensure voter turnout stays low and politician’s loyalty to party leadership stays high.

The media spotlight is on impeachment, and one might reasonably conclude that the Democrats and Republicans have no common ground. Don’t be fooled. Both parties agree that the rules of the game — which they wrote — are sacrosanct. And they will happily join forces to derail citizen’s efforts to change those rules.

Bipartisan cooperation is alive and well. And it’s keeping “We the People” from moving our country forward.

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