GUEST COMMENTARY: Open primaries would clean up government

2014-01-19T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Open primaries would clean up governmentBy Gregory Reising nwitimes.com
January 19, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Former Lake County Surveyor George Van Til is a friend of mine. He's been my friend since 1968. What happened to him is a tragedy. However, he lied to me, and he lied to you, and he abused the public trust.

I thought that if anybody could make it through the swamp that is Lake County government, it would be Van Til.

I know that when I was in Lake County politics in the 1970s, I felt I had to extricate myself for my own sake and that of my family.

The problem is that Lake County is a one-party state. In fact, virtually every county in America is a one-party state. Only when you put together all the counties in all the states in a presidential race is America really a two party system.

The reason why only a handful of House and Senate races are competitive each year is because the district or the state is dominated by one of the two major political parties.

In the party primaries we have in Indiana, it is virtually impossible for an independent-minded person to win the primary. As a result of that, the winner of the primary, because we are a one-party county, wins the general election. There is no real contest.

The Republican Party, as it is in Lake County, runs people for office who, generally speaking, should not be elected. Their views usually completely contradict the prevailing views of the working people of Lake County.

So we are left with a one-party state. And, like all one-party states, we are doomed to failure.

It would be easy, and almost impossible, to fix this sad state of affairs. We need to open the primary process. Everybody should run on the same ballot. The top two candidates winning that primary, regardless of their party affiliation, should run against each other in the fall. This way, the citizens will actually be able to choose between two candidates who have presented themselves to the public in a competitive and open for primary.

The actual election will no doubt still produce overwhelming members of Democrats in the office in Lake County. However, they would not be beholden to each other for their election. They would be beholden to the people.

The problem we have is that elected officials don't actually have constituents; they only have friends.

In a typical off-year election, only half the people who are eligible to register do so, and only 25 percent of those people who do register vote in the primary. This means 12.5 percent of the population control an off-year election, and any party apparatus worth its sale can garner 12.5 percent of the population.

I don't condone what Van Til did. He violated our trust, and no amount of explaining it away can change that fact.

I do, however, condemn the system we use to elect our officials. It creates a barrier to real public involvement and political discourse.

Gregory Reising is a Gary resident. The opinions are the writer's.

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