Opinion | Tony Jones: An alternative to purely partisan primary elections

A conversation has begun in this newspaper about the future of the Republican party in Summit County. The county is a bastion of blue matching the state’s political leanings over the last couple of election cycles. This lack of political competition does little to benefit anyone other than elected officials of the party in power. With Summit County and state politicians facing competition only from members of their own party, there’s little incentive to reach across the aisle to garner support from voters from the other party, leaving blocs of voters who feel their concerns are not being heard.

I think most Americans and Summit County residents would agree that competition between businesses is good for the consumer. We see that in pricing at the grocery store, airfare, or when shopping for a car or furniture. Similarly, I would argue that it is in the best interest of both the dominant Democratic party and Colorado as a whole that the Republican party act as a counterweight to help achieve a balance between left- and right-leaning philosophies in governance.

However, with a moderate faction that is overshadowed by more extreme candidates, there are few politicians in the Republican party to steer it towards the middle during the primaries. As such, the party will continue to pander to its base and turn out conspiracy theorists and shock jock-styled politicians who don’t have much to offer in the form of policy. And while this may be an advantage for the Democrats from a political domination perspective, it doesn’t bode well for Colorado citizens in the long run.

Under this current paradigm, party-aligned voters may find themselves with no choice but to vote for primary candidates only interested in pursuing party planks with little relevance to local or state needs. Political competition could help engender collaboration and compromise between parties, leaving no room for grandstanding or idol adulation in forming public policy.

Fortunately, in Colorado, there’s an alternative to purely partisan primary candidate elections. For now.

I would argue that the solution to this problem of parties promoting more extreme primary candidates for the general election lies in the hands of unaffiliated voters.

Say you’re an unaffiliated voter who sees much to like about the Democratic platform, including their stance on wilderness preservation, social safety net provisions and climate change. But maybe you’re not so sure about their fiscal responsibility or their stance on crime and policing. On the other hand, you may not see much to like in Republican candidates in Colorado, the most visible of whom seem to be interested primarily in addressing the conspiracy theories and bruised ego of our last president. In this environment, for an unaffiliated voter, a Democratic vote may feel like a vote for a status quo you’re not entirely comfortable with and a Republican vote may feel like you’re fueling the Trump engine.

I would suggest that in the upcoming statewide primaries, unaffiliated voters vote for moderate Republican candidates to help that party right their ship and to bring political competition to bear in Colorado. An unaffiliated vote for more moderate Republican candidates in that primary may feel like a throw away vote. However, given that unaffiliated voters comprise a larger bloc than either the Republican or Democratic parties in Colorado, unaffiliated voters have the opportunity to sway the GOP away from the circus it has become and towards a party dedicated to solving legitimate state and local issues.

A federal judge recently ruled against a lawsuit seeking to overturn Proposition 108, the law that gave unaffiliated voters in Colorado the option of participating in either party primary.

The lawsuit was filed by Republican candidates for office but dismissed because those plaintiffs didn’t have the standing to bring the claims. This ruling presumably leaves it open for a future suit wherein the state Republican party as the plaintiff may in fact have that standing. Republicans should be cautious in considering whether to continue to pursue this effort. Colorado and the Republican party may be better served by leaving this door open so that unaffiliated voters can help save the party from itself and in doing so give it greater political opportunities going forward.

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