Political parties not serving Alaska majority

Posted: Tuesday, August 01, 2000

The following editorial appeared in the July 16 issue of the Peninsula Clarion:

Alaskans should consider whether it's time to ditch the political party system that governs state politics.

That might send shivers down the spine of politicos and traditionalists, but it's a change likely to be embraced by Jane and John Q. Voter.

Consider this Alaska Division of Elections comparison of voter registration by party at the end of 1999:

Republican Party: 24.39 percent;

Democratic Party: 16.56 percent;

Alaskan Independence Party: 4.09 percent;

Libertarian: 1.51 percent;

Green Party: .72 percent;

Republican Moderate: .29 percent;

Nonpartisan: 17.21 percent;

Undeclared: 34.15 percent;

Other: 1.07 percent.

The majority of registered voters in the state - 51.36 percent - have no allegiance to any party judging by the numbers of ``nonpartisan'' and ``undeclared'' registrations.

The people they elect to office, however, do have ties - even obligations - to the political parties under whose mantle they run, especially if the candidates have bigger political aspirations.

The result is partisan bickering, an us-vs.-them mentality among politicians of different parties, and debate on the issues that's couched in party-platform terms. Party politics stalls action on important measures; it paves the way for grandstanding about how members of ``X'' or ``Y'' party did this and that and finger-pointing about how members of ``Y'' or ``X'' party failed to do this and that. Party affiliation is an automatic barrier to getting things done.

In the final analysis, it could be the party system that's at least partly to blame for low voter turnout and the general sense of apathy that permeates many citizens' attitudes about government.

What's to get voters excited about any candidate running as an ``R'' or a ``D'' or any other political party? Don't those parties represent business as usual and more of the same kinds of political gamesmanship the public has come to detest.

Politicians have lost touch with the majority of voters at the very beginning of the political process: one's allegiances.

Party politics promotes loyalty to the party, not to the public. How else could legislators justify their closed-door caucuses? Why should the public's business be hidden - ever?

Party affiliation also leads to politically correct responses as opposed to honest dialogue. After all, aren't candidates of every party expected to toe the party line?

Party affiliation makes it easy for voters to pigeonhole candidates. Such categorization not only is unfair to the candidates, but also, in the end, to the public because it fails to give a complete picture of a candidate.

We suspect most Alaska voters register as ``nonpartisan'' or ``undeclared'' because none of the organized political parties accurately reflect their individual ideologies. They prefer to vote for people not parties. They don't really care what the party stands for; they want to know what the candidate stands for. (Without a doubt, there are voters - and elected officials - who cross party lines. Such crossover further supports the idea the party system isn't serving anyone well.)

State government needs only to look at local governments to see great examples of nonpartisan politics in action. Sure, city councils and borough assemblies have their problems, disagreements and factions. They also know how to work together to get things accomplished for their communities.

We can't help but wonder how well candidates for statewide office might do if they willingly dropped the party label and spoke candidly about the issues of importance to Alaskans, not the issues of importance to political parties.

It could be the ticket to renewing people's interest in the political process.

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