Monday, February 24, 2014

Nobody Should Abide

This weekend the Wright County Republican Party held its endorsing convention.  The surprising news to come out of the convention was that State Representative David FitzSimmons (R-30B) withdrew his name from consideration for endorsement for re-election.

That FitzSimmons’ career in public office (at least for now) would come to an end at an endorsing convention is a case of either poetic justice or sweet irony, depending on your preference for overused clichés.

Until being elected in his own right in 2012, FitzSimmons’ primary political accomplishments were securing the endorsements of Tom Emmer for Governor in 2010, and Kurt Bills for US Senate in 2012.  FitzSimmons had gained a reputation for understanding and exploiting the mechanics of endorsing conventions.

The losing Emmer and Bills campaigns are cited often by those who feel that the Minnesota Republican Party’s endorsement system is broken, so it’s fitting that we get to add FitzSimmons’ own endorsement to the list.

I would contend that the recent Wright County convention is a text-book example of our broken process.

By most accounts the opposition to FitzSimmons centers on his vote to legalize same-sex marriage in the 2013 legislative session.  Depending on who you talk to, the opposition is either rooted in the fact that people are ideologically opposed to same-sex marriage, or that FitzSimmons lied about his intent to vote for the measure.  For the purposes of this discussion, the root cause is irrelevant.  The key point is that a small part of FitzSimmons’ constituency was mad about one of his votes.

I argued in a recent post that our system of endorsing candidates, while “respecting the will of the delegates,” disrespects the vast majority (typically 90%+, varies a bit by year and district) of the electorate who vote in Primary elections but don’t attend endorsing conventions.

About 160 delegates voted in the 30B convention this weekend.  In 2012, 950 voters showed up to vote in the Republican Primary election in district 30B.  There were over 12,000 Republican votes for FitzSimmons in the general election.  So the 160 delegates who attended the convention represent about 17% of the primary electorate and 1.3% of the general election population.

These 160 people, or more accurately the 120 who voted for FitzSimmons’ opponent, decided for the 12,000 other Republican voters that FitzSimmons should no longer be the Republican candidate for their district.  But they did it with the help of one key supporter- FitzSimmons himself.  When FitzSimmons agreed to abide by the endorsement and drop out of the race, he deprived those other Republicans a choice, and allowed a small but vocal minority to have an outsized impact on our electoral process.

According to the Star Tribune, FitzSimmons may be backing away from that position, and looking at a primary.

Local political conventions are typically filled with the most diehard and unforgiving activists. FitzSimmons said he would likely fare better with the more diverse pool of GOP primary voters, who might focus more on his unwavering opposition to taxes and abortion.

I, for one, welcome his battle field conversion. Who better than FitzSimmons, twice the beneficiary and now a casualty of our unrepresentative, easily manipulated, broken system, to carry the torch of reform?

There is near-constant talk about how to make the Republican Party more inclusive and attractive to the general public. Not allowing small groups of the most extreme element of the party select our candidates for us would be a great start.