Democracy in action

Let voters choose, free from manipulation

Keywords: Politics,

Once again, a political campaign in Montezuma County has deteriorated into vicious sniping, with most of the barbs flying in one direction.

Will that strategy work? Possibly. Fear is a powerful weapon, most often employed by those who fear their favored candidate will lose. Mud is effective, especially if there’s enough of it to obscure the real issues, but it’s not the weapon of choice for those who have better tools — like relevant facts — at their disposal. Lies and half-truths work well too, if the goal is victory at any price.

Will local public offices and their constituents be served well by such a campaign? Hardly.

When this spring’s Republican county assembly didn’t produce the results desired, and certainly expected, by some, an alternate route to the ballot remained open.

That’s as it should be, but the appropriate response doesn’t include temper tantrums by supporters.

Particularly offensive are allegations that some people are not “real” Republicans, or at least not real enough to be candidates or primary voters, because that suggests an impulse to restrict competition.

Instead of encouraging broad and informed participation, a group of local Republicans seem to want to narrow the gates, admitting only long-time party members and perhaps applying a purity test even then. Before the school board elections last fall, non-Republican candidates weren’t even invited to participate in a Republican forum.

There’s a great deal wrong with that. It suggests that if open and vigorous debate cannot be allowed the result might not be favorable to the preferred candidates. It contradicts the belief that the GOP can inspire people and transform them into Republicans. It limits the potential to hear the entire scope of concerns and consider solutions from the entire range of contributors. Such behavior doesn’t display faith in our model of government.

Party affiliation is a philosophy of governing, not a set of qualifications. Each of us is well suited for some positions and not for others, and every party has brilliant leaders and complete incompetents. Just being a Republican isn’t an all-sufficient credential.

The form of participatory democracy that has guided and grown the United States is built on idea that the best candidate will win if voters are provided with accurate information. Over the years, the body of those considered to be trustworthy has expanded; no longer are only white male property owners allowed to vote. It’s certainly true that non-Republicans have a stake in the outcome of local elections, even when they’re decided in the GOP primary. Can some local Republicans really believe that they hold an exclusive franchise on civic responsibility and good ideas? They’re acting as if the franchise is threatened.

Transparency is a virtue, in political campaigns as in government. It’s the institutional equivalent of honesty, and it enables voters to make informed decisions. Transparency has not, however, illuminated this campaign season, which has featured, among other questionable tactics, letters probably not written by the people who signed them.

Candidates cannot be held wholly responsible for their supporters’ behavior, but studying those who are attracted to a particular candidate does provide valuable information. By all means, let’s elect the most highly qualified candidates, and let’s remember that one qualification should be trust in the ability of voters to make the right decision without being manipulated.