The Norman Transcript

November 20, 2013

Former Congressman calls for change in political party power

By Katherine Parker
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Former U.S. Congressman Mickey Edwards said the U.S. Congressional system is functioning the way it was designed to, as people who compromise are accused of not being a real Republican or a real Democrat. And our Congressmen don’t reflect their constituents because we’re not really electing them.

However, Edwards said the system doesn’t work because we, the people, designed it not to work by creating political parties with the power to enact party primary laws, redraw district lines and enact sore loser laws

“We have created a polarized system that rewards the intransigent and punishes compromise,” Edwards said said Wednesday night at the University of Oklahoma President’s Associates Dinner.

OU President David Boren praised Edwards and how he challenges the public to change a system that penalizes those who work together.

“His book gives practical, concrete suggestions to put positive incentives back into the system,” Boren said.

Edwards was a U.S. Congressman from Oklahoma from 1977 to1993. Edwards served Oklahoma’s fifth congressional district as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 16 years and taught at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs for five years.

He currently serves as vice president of the Aspen Institute and director of the Institute’s Aspen-Rodel Fellowships in Public Leadership program. He recently was elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He wrote two books, “Reclaiming Conservatism: How a Great American Political Movement Got Lost — And How It Can Find Its Way Back” and “The Parties Versus the People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans.”

Edwards explained how Congressmen don’t represent the people anymore, citing an example from the State of Delaware. After President Barack Obama was elected, Joe Biden left his Delaware senator seat to become vice president.

Edwards said that everyone in the state believed Mike Castle, governor of Delaware from 1985 to 1992, would be elected as their next senator. However, Castle was defeated in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat by Christine O’Donnell. She won the primary with 30,000 votes and won the general election.

He said Castle would have been strongly favored in the general election and easily won against Democrat Chris Coons, so why didn’t Castle run in the general election?

“Because of a sore loser law, which says if you don’t win the primary, you can’t be on the general election ballot,” he said.

There are one million people in Delaware, and 30,000 people decided who their next senator would be. Forty-six states have sore loser laws, including Oklahoma, Edwards said. He cited similar situations. In Utah, Robert Bennett was defeated in a primary that only represented a fraction of Utah’s population. In Texas, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was defeated by Ted Cruz in a primary.

“Why do they (Congress) not reflect us? Because we don’t elect them,” he said. “It’s small tiny subsets of the population that know if you sit down and cooperate with the other side, you’re going to get ‘primary-ied’ and knocked off. We need to restore democracy to our democracy.”

More people than both Democrats and Republicans are registering as Independents, Edwards said. The state of Washington has already ended party primaries and a party’s ability to redraw district lines. This means all candidates run on the same ballot and everyone votes.

In 2010, the state of California also got rid of primaries. And Edwards said similar bills have been introduced in other states, like Colorado and Texas. Edwards said he is not suggesting that we should completely get rid of political parties, but he thinks they should be turned into something similar to a rotary club.

“Political parties should have the ability to endorse but not keep people off the ballots,” he said.

Despite the difficulty the people may face in moving political parties from their existing power, Edwards said he was optimistic and thought a revolution had already begun.

“We can change this,” Edwards said.

Katherine Parker



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