"Vote for the man, not the party." "I don't want to be told what to do by a party."
"Parties are all corrupt, right?" Wrong.
Political parties are organized by your neighbors to give you the chance to instruct your government. It's your way to get good things done in politics.
In the 1970s, the major political parties were a mishmash. There were not so much philosophical differences between Republicans and Democrats as regional differences. Southerners were conservative Democrats. Northerners had liberal wings in both parties. Westerners were more Republican.
Ronald Reagan, a former union president, changed how the national parties operate. Reagan believed that political philosophy mattered and wanted parties to state their beliefs and enact an agenda based upon those beliefs. With Reagan, party platforms resulted in a road map that changed national policies on spending, taxes, welfare and national defense.
Alaska caucuses for both major parties are Feb. 5. Republicans (www.alaskarepublicans.com) and Democrats (www.alaskademocrats.org) have combined the district conventions on the same day. Will you join with your neighbors to instruct your government?
For Alaskans, two nonpartisan goals to achieve through their parties are a strong energy agenda and stronger defense. I hope the Republican and Democratic Parties nationally back the Alaska gas line, opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and increasing support for our troops. Delegations to the national conventions should put those Alaska issues into their national platforms.
Elections should not just be about personalities. Reagan's genius was to invite all the conservatives, both fiscal and social conservatives, to fight for their causes inside the big tent of the Republican Party. The Republican Party became the conservative party and the Democratic Party became the liberal or progressive party.
The amazing thing about this self identification of philosophies was the clarity it brought voters. Candidates and their parties could stand with a clear vision, not hide it. When you come to the caucuses, you set the national and state agenda for your party. You write the action plan and elect delegates for the candidates you feel are most capable of communicating that agenda to Alaskans and the nation. Your candidates are up front, personal.
Republicans this year have a difficult challenge. Some of our members are in jail for corruption. That shame could taint the entire Republican Party. I hope that the Republican leader with the best ideas on a clean and transparent government, Gov. Sarah Palin, will step up at the caucuses to provide leadership on those issues. Let's ask Palin to make certain that all Alaskans understand that Republicans are not a party of corruption, but one of principles and dedication to Alaskans' best interests, just as she is.
Republican and Democratic delegates should address the practice of earmarks at their conventions. Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young have been hammered nationally for their expertise in earmarks. Delegates should hear what's wrong with honoring Alaskans' requests for appropriations. If our Congressional team doesn't insist upon appropriations for our cities, who will? It will be interesting to see if Democratic mayors oppose earmarks in their platform after requesting and accepting them for their towns?
The national Republican platform has a plank that I helped write 24 years ago opposing abortion as the solution for unwanted pregnancies. The Democratic platform insists upon abortion as an unrestricted right for every woman. Whether you are for or against these hotly debated positions, show up at the caucuses and let your voice be heard. Make sure your party addresses issues important to you and is accountable for implementing the best solution.
Parties are people and ideas. They are not machines, not nameless, faceless manipulators. They raise money, help their candidates and espouse a political agenda that their majorities' adopt. Parties elect their leaders, delegates and candidates to act with integrity and purpose. Government works better when more people get in the game. Reagan taught us that one person with vibrant ideas and unwavering principles can make a huge difference. Today, you could be the next person to make that true.
Jim Crawford is a twice former chairman of the Alaska Republican Party and was President Reagan's Alaska chairman. He and his family live in Eagle River.
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