Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Primarily About Kansas

It's primary day here in Kansas. I voted earlier this morning, at a polling station at the church a little more than a half-mile down the road from our house. There wasn't a line--but then, there never is for primary elections, certainly not at 7am.

Why vote? Because I believe voting is both a civic duty and a political good. It isn't, I think, our greatest civic duty or our highest political good; I know too much about elections and all the problems with them (both practical and theoretical) to be able to say otherwise. But just because voting doesn't give or fulfill everything we might want it to isn't a reason not to find the time to do your homework and to make your choices (even if those choices, as they were for me, we're mostly a matter of signaling that I, as a citizen, was present). It's not the be-all and end-all of self-government, but it's something. So, just in case there's someone in Kansas (particularly someone here in the 4th congressional district) who hasn't voted yet and is open to being persuaded to by 7pm this evening, here are some thoughts.

Stuart Elliott, a friend, self-taught scholar, and general rabble-rouser, had a nice run-down of all ways in which elections in Kansas struggle to meet even the low bar for "democracy" which I mentioned above. I don't agree with him on every point--for example, he is critical of the closed primary system in Kansas, while I'm mostly supportive of it, as I think anything which both potentially strengthens the connections candidates have to parties, as well as the oversight which voters can wield over those candidates which the parties they support nominate, is worth pursuing. But overall we're on the same page when it comes to fusion voting (allowing multiple small parties, which might emerge to advance the ideological views of a minor portion of the electorate, to back the same candidate, thus increasing the possible influence of small parties in a first-past-the-post election system which we have), campaign finance reform in the face of the enormous advantages enjoyed by those with access to often undisclosed sources of funding (particularly important in small population states where a few major players can far outspend and thus dominate in the public eye races statewide), and most of all the weirdly paranoid contempt which our secretary of state, Kris Kobach, appears to feel for the most elementary duty of his office: helping the citizens of Kansas to be able to vote. If you're a Republican, and haven't voted yet, please: vote Scott Morgan. He won't win--in primary elections, absent a well-funded and/or ideologically networked opponent, the incumbent can easily count on the bulk of the people who bother to show up to support them--but a less than enthusiastic response amongst Republican voters who can recognize Kobach's policy objectives for the distracting and self-aggrandizing stunts they are will bode well for electing Jean Schodorf in November.

The big contest locally, of course, is between Mike Pompeo, our current congressional representative, and Todd Tiarht, a man who held that seat for 16 years before losing in the last major Republican primary fight in Kansas, the 2010 race to become the GOP senate nominee (and thus, given how strongly Republican this state is, our senator, which is exactly what the man who defeated him ended up becoming). Tiarht, for any number of reasons, wants it back, but he's almost certainly not going to get it. I don't have a dog in this fight--both Pompeo and Tiarht stand for too many things that I think are plain foolish and wrong--but I'm surprised that Tiarht's campaign against Pompeo, especially given the way Pompeo has strongly defended the NSA and the interests of agribusinesses, hasn't gone thoroughly Tea Party against him. That hasn't stopped some of Tiarht's supporters from painting the contest in those terms, and Tiarht himself has occasionally gone in that direction, but by and large he seems to have primarily run his campaign on the assumption that people remember him, like him, and will vote for him. No doubt there are many who do--but are enough of them committed Republicans of the sort who will show up for a primary election before closing time tonight? I strongly doubt it. (I can't deny that in my very limited interactions with both men, Pompeo seemed much more competent and intelligent than Tiarht, for whatever that's worth.)

Speaking of Tea Party challenges, though, we do have Milton Wolf, a perhaps slightly unhinged libertarian and constitutionalist, but still a generally impressive novice true believer, challenging our other senator, Pat Roberts, for the Republican nomination. Roberts is a thoroughly unimpressive career politician, about whom the most passionate arguments are simply whether he bothers with his home state enough to live here (he doesn't, but he does formally list a friend's house as the place where his mail should be sent) or enough to take seriously the prospect of actually having to make a case for why anyone should vote for him (he doesn't, having refused to debate Wolf or indeed to meet with him, leading Wolf to engage in stunts like the one above where he ambushed the senator on camera). Again, I have no dog in this fight ideologically speaking, but I'd delight to see Roberts taken out by Wolf all the same. For one thing, Roberts (non-)actions in this election have shown him to be, in my opinion, a complete stuffed shirt; for another thing, as I've suggested before, I really think it's valuable sometimes to see radicals (even, or maybe especially, those I strong disagree with) get involved in and thus mix up the established parties, particularly given that our election system is set up such that two-party dominance is essentially a constitutional guarantee. (Of course, the fact that Wolf's win would give Chad Taylor a shot in November is part of the calculation as well.)

Of course, there's also Jennifer Winn's single-minded attempt to push the important issues of reforming drug laws into the Republican gubernatorial contest (far better, I think, to contact Wichita's City Council and urge them to take seriously the petition to put the decriminalization of medicinal marijuana on the ballot), and numerous county races--many of which, as I suggested at the beginning, are uncontested, and to which the best we can do is signal our presence as part of the whole complicated mess which is democratic governance. For us here in Kansas, I can only echo Stuart Elliott once again: if we want genuinely competitive elections and a real exchange of ideas, such that more of Kansans can feel invested in and thus legitimatize those making decisions on our behalf, the most practical route is has to involve "re-invigorating the Democratic Party, the growth of grass-roots progressive organizations like Kansas People's Action, and a more creative and energized political effort by teachers and other unions." But in the meantime, we work with what we have--and that means, today, voting. So do it, if you haven't yet, okay?

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