A WAY TO BUST THE TWO-PARTY TRUST
By: Sean Scallon
Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer decided to break ranks. He was a
conservative but had always run for office as a Democrat, a lean towards the partisan tilt
of his State Assembly district in eastern Wisconsin near Manitowoc. His votes had touched
off a primary challenge from a liberal member of the party. So instead of taking the risk
of losing because he was his own man and didnt follow the party line, he decided to
run as an independent.
Of course it easy to go this course when you are a sitting member of the state
legislature and the voting public in the district already knows you. Even so, it will
still be difficult for him to raise money without one of the two major-party campaign
committees paying his bills. Now picture yourself as candidate without office trying to do
the same thing.
Theres nothing in the Constitution of the United States that even mentions
political parties or factions of any kind in the role of government. They came about well
after the document was ratified in 1787. Parties have always justified their existence as
ensuring the blessings of liberty and democracy by keeping each other honest and on their
toes. But in this day and ages of parties adhering to starkly different ideological
viewpoints and using all manner of discipline and coercion to try and keep their members
in line, what we see are parties more akin to socialist political entities rather than
traditional American ones. Even in a state like Wisconsin, where party control is
traditionally supposed to be weak, legislative campaign committees and caucuses dictate
their candidates votes in office with control of the purse string and seniority on
committees. In so doing they have harden both major parties into warring camps rather than
partners in government.
But while the state capitol in Madison (and Washington D.C. for that matter) resembles
a World War I battlefield with its political equivalent of artillery barrages, trench
warfare and no-mans land covered by barbed wire, local government in the rest of the
state functions without partisan rancor. Not that there is peace and harmony, but with
seats on county, village and township boards along with city councils and mayors offices
all designated non-partisan, the two sides of any concern over the budget, road
maintenance or garbage fees, is dealt with rather than becoming part of the back and forth
bickering that finds both sides looking to score political points rather than
accomplishing what they were elected to do.
Perhaps its time then to bring practice of non-partisanship from the bottom up.
Only one state legislature in the nation designates its members non-partisan,
meaning no party whatsoever, and thats Nebraskas (its also a unicameral
legislature, another reform well worth considering). Minnesotas once was (it
reverted to partisan designation in the mid-1970s). This is not to say that members of the
Nebraska state legislature dont identify with political parties in particular, many
of them do. But what it means is theres no divide of seats in the chamber, no first
consideration of the party line and no worry that a vote to make the best decision for the
state doesnt end up costing a member funding for his or hers next re-election
A non-partisan legislature will also be boon to those outside the two-party monopoly
(or perhaps a better description is the two-party trust given that a monopoly is a single
company overlording a particular field of business. Here there are two or more companies
colluding to control the market.). Greens, Libertarians, Constitutionalists and Socialists
of all stripes could run for the state legislature without having to worry about competing
against the big two with little money or organization. They could also work in coalition
with the majors to back a candidate in a particular Assembly or Senate district. The
fluidity to the political system that a non-partisan legislature would create would make
it easier for bills and resolutions to be debated and worked over without the calcifying
effect that partisan politics has had on the Wisconsin state legislature over the past
decade and a half. It would eliminate the partisan campaign finance scandals such
hardening of party lines created. It also can eliminate the need to gerrymander such
districts to favor one party or another. The same could also be said for closely contested
legislatures across the country. Indeed, Californias budget crises could have been
solved more quickly without parties trying to whip deal-making legislators into line.
Perhaps a way to mitigate the affect the newly passed Prop. 14 and the establishment of
so-called "jungle primaries" where all the candidates of all parties run on a
single ballot, is to create a proposition which would have said candidates be declared
George Washington warned against the "spirit of the party" that would
paralyze the nation in factional strife whether by region or by economics throughout his
term in office. Little did he realize how ideology would make such factionalism even more
contentious. To set free state legislators to do whats right instead of chaining
them to a party standard, perhaps its time for Wisconsin and more states like her to
work as its local governments work every day, without regard to party or faction.
Sean Scallon is a freelance writer and newspaper reporter who
lives in Arkansaw, Wisconsin. His work has appeared in Chronicles: A magazine of American
Culture. His first-ever book: Beating the Powers that Be: Independent Political Movements
and Parties of the Upper Midwest and their Relevance in Third-party Politics of Today is
now out on sale from Publish America. Go to the their website at www.publishamerica.com to
order a copy. He is a regular columnist for Ether Zone.
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Sean Scallon can be reached at: email@example.comOctober 11, 2010 issue of Ether Zone.
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