A post mortem
on the body politic
Quick thoughts about lessons learned from this year’s primary election while waiting for votes to be counted:
Political campaigns and special interests contributed more than three mailers a day to our home recycling bin in weeks leading up to the election.
Perhaps the worst showed up just after last week’s paper went to press. In a state representative race that saw well more than $100,000 spent on total advertising, challenger Scott Hill distributed a piece that looked almost exactly like one distributed by an anti-abortion group.
The two were so similar, if they hadn’t arrived on the same day, even the trained eye of a professional designer wouldn’t have noticed the difference.
The main change was that Hill altered a key endorsement, taking it away from incumbent John Barker and giving it to himself.
He added a long quotation — without saying who (other than himself) wrote it — claiming that he was the one and only truly pro-life candidate. He also changed a few other endorsements from right-wing politicians to ultra-right-wingers and revealed himself to be concerned mainly about Dickinson County, not Marion County, by endorsing congressional and county commission candidates only from there.
The group whose mailer was ripped off almost immediately labeled Hill’s mailer “misleading” (in an official statement) and “theft” (in a private message to a voter). Whether Hill won or lost Tuesday, this is the type of behavior that should be remembered well into the future.
Barker is to be lauded for not letting messages approved by his campaign become negative, the way Hill’s sometimes were. Still, both candidates lined up outside interests that tried, often using deceptive facts, to sully the reputation of the other.
The pretense that political action committees aren’t coordinated with official campaign committees is insulting to voters’ intelligence.
Not only do these largely unregulated groups clearly figure in campaigns’ plans. Some — like one of Hill’s — don’t even pretend to be separate, having officially registered with its sole purpose being to support his election.
It may take a constitutional amendment to do so, but it’s time to rein in ads that do little to elevate political debate and are controlled by shadowy special interests.
Although we at the newspaper would lose money if they were enacted, meaningful limits on campaign expenditures are urgently needed, and any ad that seems to advocate or oppose any candidate or issue needs to count against that campaign’s ad quota.
Even worse than PACs coordinating with official campaigns is that one-third of all candidate flyers that arrived in our recycling bin were mailed under reduced rates offered to non-profit organizations.
Non-profits are great. They provide charity, counseling, disaster relief, and such. But advocating political causes doesn’t fall within the realm of public service worthy of government subsidy via reduced mailing rates.
If a group wants to transform itself from a non-profit charity into a special-interest pressure group, it needs to pay full price — including income, property, and sales taxes — just like the rest of us.
Now that we’ve arrived in 2022, it may be time to leave behind the archaic system of precinct committeemen and committeewomen.
Not only is it sexist to guarantee election of exactly one man and one woman in each precinct. It’s also unrepresentative to give equal voice to a township of 60 and a city ward of well more than 600.
Even worse, no one seems to care who gets elected — though, really, we should.
In Tuesday’s election, out of 62 positions for each party, no one filed for 42 Democratic positions and 34 Republican positions. That’s 61.3% of the available positions having absolutely no candidates.
In only two cases did more than one candidate file, and one of those was for a race orchestrated by forces outside the precinct to try to get rid of a person who had fallen out of favor with radicalized leaders of the party.
You might think this lack of interest is because precinct committees are meaningless. Truth is, they have real power.
Three county commissioners and the sheriff — all on the ballot without opposition in the primary or general election — originally were selected not by voters but by precinct committees.
Many members of those committees were chosen in less than democratic ways. Vacancies often aren’t filled by voters. They’re filled by the chairman of the remaining committee members, who ends up picking cronies who think like he or she does. Even Chinese Communists don’t put so much potential clout in the hands of so few people.
The precinct committee structure is the primary means by which radicalized forces have seized control of our political system and transformed it into the annoyingly shrill and divisive mess that plagues our democracy.
Back rooms of politics may no longer be smoke-filled, but self-styled power mongers continue to use precinct committees to conspire to make our politics confrontational instead of collaborative.
The next two years should be filled with nothing but praise for Marion County commissioners.
Voters had a chance this year to elect three new ones — a majority who could change anything anyone dislikes about county government.
Instead, all three commissioners ran unopposed in their parties Tuesday and will run unopposed from the opposition party in November.
Every last resident of the county must be so satisfied that not even token opposition was offered. We therefore expect the next two years to be filled with nothing but back-slapping congratulations for a job well done.
Next time you feel tempted to speak in disparaging terms about our commissioners, consider doing as Edith Bunker was told and stifle yourself. We had our chance to go in a different direction and didn’t take it. There’s no point complaining when we reap what we sow.
— ERIC MEYER