Guest Opinion: Turning GOP to vote in primary gives 'unaffiliated' a voice

GUEST OPINION: ONE-PARTY IDAHO

May 9, 2014 

I just did something I thought I'd never do in the 40 years I've been a registered voter.

I changed my Idaho party registration from "unaffiliated" to Republican.

A big step for someone who fought for the 18-year-old vote in 1971 ... knocked on doors in the textile mill towns of North Carolina on behalf of presidential candidate George McGovern in 1972 ... and slept on a bus overnight to Washington, D.C., in 1973 to protest Richard Nixon's second inauguration.

My change of heart signifies no real self-identification with today's Republican Party.

I happen to believe that the once-honorable Grand Old Party - the party of equality and freedom under Abraham Lincoln and progressive reform and conservation under Theodore Roosevelt - has been hijacked by a right-wing cabal of reactionary, Obama-hating, science-denying tea party activists.

It's just that in a one-party state like Idaho - where the majority party controls all levers of power and displays no willingness to reach across the aisle, where the minority party stands virtually no chance of prevailing in statewide elections anymore - the Republican Party's May primary has emerged as "the only game in town."

It's much the same as it was in the Deep South in the 1960s, when the Democratic Party held all electoral cards.

Now that Idaho's Republican Party primary is closed, formal affiliation with the GOP becomes the onerous "price of admission" to the only contest that matters - the May GOP primary. Those whose affiliations remain Democrat or unaffiliated have little to choose from at primary time, and even less to anticipate in the general election.

By becoming a Republican, I now can choose to vote in the May Republican primary, or opt for a Democratic or minor party ballot in their remaining "open" primaries, if any non-Republican contest looks interesting.

By voting in the Republican primary, I now have the option of casting a ballot in either of two directions - for the least objectionable Republican (if it appears his or her election in November is a foregone conclusion) or for the most objectionable tea party factionalist, in the event that doing so might give an aspiring Democrat the edge in the general election.

That might be a perverse way of voting. That's what occurs whenever political power becomes so overwhelmingly concentrated in the hands of one party.

It makes a mockery of America's much-vaunted "two-party system." It causes citizens to vote not their hopes, but their fears. It pushes voters into taking creative approaches to force the system back into political equilibrium.

Faced with the choice of primary voting for a Republican with whom I disagree 80 percent of the time versus one I disagree with 100 percent of the time, I'll opt for the 80-percenter.

But if voting for one of Idaho's most extreme tea party ideologues gives a moderate Democrat a November advantage, I'll vote for the extremist, hoping that it's rectified in the general election by a sober and thinking electorate.

In one of the reddest of Red States, intertribal factionalism is causing the Republican Party to balkanize into warring camps, eating their young in a misguided quest for ideological purity.

The Republican-dominated Legislature invests its energies in bizarre ag-gag bills and guns-on-campus debates, instead of working across the aisle to address overarching issues such as education, Medicare expansion and tax reform.

The solution is not to squander votes in the meaningless primaries of regrettably marginalized parties, but to enter the Republican fray at primary time and attempt from within to restore some sense of balance and reason through strategic voting ... hoping that one day Idaho will return to the productive, two-party political system.

David Klinger hopes to one day vote for both Republicans and Democrats in Idaho, following the tradition of his father, whose first presidential vote was for Wendell Willkie in 1940 and his last for Barack Obama in 2012.

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