Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tipping the Scales

Congressman Eric Cantor (R) recently came into criticism when it came to light he had donated to the Campaign for Primary Accountability, a super PAC which, among its activities, had spent $132,000 running ads against Rep. Jean Schmidt during the lead up to her March 6 primary loss. The situation brings up the problem of intraparty political activity: when is it alright for Republican officeholders to contribute to the defeat of other Republicans?

Some say Cantor is blameworthy since he holds the office of House Majority Leader. Other Republican Congressmen must naturally be wondering if their House leadership will ever think to hustle them out of office. And conservative voters should wonder if that concern is necessarily a bad thing for a Congressmen to have. Those who favor Cantor’s actions might point to the importance of party discipline, and the need to keep mavericks reined in. Meanwhile, others argue that national Republican bigwigs should never intrude in the local decision-making processes of congressional districts.

Of course, a comparable situation occurred in our state’s past primary, where Kevin DeWine, the now ex-Chairman of the state Republican central committee, led an effort to use state party resources to influence the results of state committee races in various senate districts. Some voters were naturally disturbed to hear that their party’s state apparatus was being used to tip the scales within their districts.

While Cantor’s story is newsworthy on the national level, and DeWine’s on the state level, the fact is, this sort of thing goes on everywhere, all the way down to the grassroots. For instance, in many places across Ohio, it’s almost impractical to run for any political office without first receiving the endorsement of one’s party’s county committee – or at least making sure the committee isn’t endorsing some one else.

There was a time when I bothered to oppose the idea of Republican county committees issuing candidate endorsements. My position was, the committees, which are made up of elected and (regrettably) appointed precinct men, shouldn’t be telling voters who they should be voting for in primary elections. Let the candidates campaign, let the voters decide, and may the best man win.

But the fact is, my arguments always fell on deaf ears. Many committee men only fill their positions so they can weigh in on party endorsements. (You rarely see them otherwise.) Asking them to restrain themselves from flexing this power was an exercise in futility; so I eventually gave up the effort. Now I merely urge committee men to keep an open mind, and not to blindly follow the dictates of any clique, whether it’s one centered at the county courthouse, or the back room of some unelected tea party faction.

As for sympathies for Jean Schmidt, I have few. When she was preparing to exit the Ohio House of Representatives in a run for the State Senate, she worked to bring the financial resources of the House caucus to bear behind her favored replacement for her House seat in a contested primary election. The state party apparatus backed this candidate (a nice guy, by the way) as if he was a House incumbent. Schmidt didn’t have any problems with Columbus-derived money being spent in this house district race, or in backing her unsuccessful run for an open and contested state Senate seat. So what goes around, comes around.

Updated for clarity and typos.

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